(AP) City and federal officials made good on promises Wednesday to start work on razing a vacant Detroit housing project once home to boxer Joe Louis and the Supremes before the musical trio became vital voices of "the Motown sound."
Mayor Dave Bing and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the first stage of demolishing the Frederick Douglass Homes, the graffiti-covered complex comprising several city blocks better known as the Brewster projects. Work began on the complex's low-rise row houses, and the mid- and high-rise structures are expected to follow later this year.
Bing announced the plans last year. A $6.5 million emergency federal grant covers the initial phase of demolition and cleanup, and officials say the city will be eligible for more money when that's completed. The housing project consists of four 15-story high-rise apartments, two 6-story mid-rise buildings and 96 low-rise row houses.
The federal money comes at a crucial time for the city, which is overseen by a state-appointed emergency manager and in July became the nation's largest city to file for bankruptcy.
"Without (federal) support, this could not have happened," Bing said.
Bing said he expects "a lot of developers" will look at the 18.5-acre property even before the city issues requests for proposals. The area sits between the city's rebounding Midtown and downtown areas, and near the proposed $650 million development that includes a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings.
He acknowledged the Brewster's lore as the proving grounds for Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson before joining Motown Records a half-century ago as well as the training ground for Louis, who trained at the nearby Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center. The city also said the complex, abandoned in 2008, was the nation's first federally funded housing development for African-Americans when it opened in 1935.
Still, history can't erase current reality: The buildings on the edge of downtown have become a haven for crime and arson, as well as an "eyesore on our city's landscape," he said.
Donovan said the demolition represents "the first step in reversing that cycle," but he hopes people focus on what it represents. He expects that any new development will embrace a mixed-use, mixed-income model that's accessible to schools, businesses and public transportation.
"We're here to celebrate a very important step toward the longer-term revitalization of the site, the neighborhood and the city," he said.
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