Newcomers find spark of innovation in Detroit

Detroit has always attracted outsiders who wanted to contribute to the city’s growth. From architect Albert Kahn to civic rights activist Rosa Parks, over the decades numerous benefactors who hailed from elsewhere found in Detroit a stage for their best efforts.

This month two more innovators turned up with something to offer. Brandon Duckett, 38, a New York City-based accountant and real estate developer, introduced reporters to his project to renovate a derelict apartment building at 678 Selden, the latest project to sprout in busy Midtown. It marks Duckett’s first effort in the city.

And Italian journalist Francesca Berardi, who first came to Detroit on a visit two years ago, was back in the city for the publication of her new book Detour in Detroit, an extended love letter to the city.

Each in his or her way shows that Detroit, despite its decades of decline and its ravaged city landscape, continues to exert a powerful attraction for all sorts of creative people.

Duckett lives with his wife and two children on the upper west side of Manhattan but is now spending several days a week here on his Selden project. Last week he recounted how he caught the Motown bug when he and his wife visited Detroit for a wedding.

“When I came here I was looking for investment opportunities and I heard about this project,” he said. “We just happened to run into somebody who was selling the property and that’s pretty much how it came about.”

His project will transform a 22,796-square-foot vacant apartment building constructed in 1922 into a mixed-use development that Duckett said will increase the density and the walkability of the block. He plans to create 28 market-rate apartments and two commercial spaces in the building. It will be called the H.R. Finn Apartments.

This month, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved a Michigan Community Revitalization Program incentive in the amount of $670,210 in a performance-based grant. Other funding for the $3.7-million project includes a $1.5-million construction loan from Capital Impact Partners, a lender that has worked frequently in Detroit and in the Midtown area to finance redevelopment projects.

Italian journalist Beradi similarly came to Detroit on a visit and, by her own account, fell hard for the city. Her book recounts her encounters with a wealth of Detroit people and places, famous and not so famous, from John King Books and Roma Cafe to the city’s musicians, artists, and urban farmers. Her book is lavishly illustrated by Antonio Rovaldi.

She tells in her book how she explored much of this complex city on a Schwinn bicycle, seeing sights both hopeful and disquieting.

“In May, astride the Schwinn, a world opened up to me,” she writes. “Riding around a city had never seemed so intriguing and liberating…. It’s an ideal territory to explore by bike; it catches your eye and distracts you. You could lose yourself in it, but it’s better if you don’t. In Detroit, it’s a good to have an idea of where you are…. Full of carrots and broccoli in vegetable gardens, but also guns in homes.”

It seems likely that Detroit, enjoying a growing reputation for gritty urban innovation, will continue to attract and hold developers, writers, and many more newcomers.

“We plan to do a lot more,” Duckett said of his hopes in Detroit. “We just have to find those opportunities.”


Originally posted on Detroit Free Press | View Original Post

By: John Gallagher
July 18, 2015, 10:58 pm


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