When crews began clearing out a 10-block area near Eastern Market two weeks ago, a prostitute cussed out workers because they had removed a dirty mattress she had been using to turn tricks.
Heroin addicts who used to shoot up in a vacant 19th-century church at Pierce and Chene are gone. And trucks that used to dump trash can no longer hide behind abandoned buildings.
Now they’re gone because of a newly established Detroit Blight Authority that leveled 10-12 blocks of land bound by Chene, St. Aubin, Pierce and Wilkins. At the center of the project is Bill Pulte, grandson of the founder of Pulte Homes. He and his team met with Mayor Bing in December and quickly hashed out a directive.
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The cost to demolish six houses, level trees, till the land and clean up discarded tires and trash: just $200,000.
“We’re not saying this will fix the entire city, but it’s a good model to start with,” Pulte said today as he and the mayor unveiled the plan. “We made a lot of progress, and we plan to do this throughout the city. We will be meeting with the mayor to determine the best areas in the very near future.”
The authority plans to seek federal and private funds.
To avoid the apparence of impropriety, Pulte has pledged not to invest in property that would benefit from demolition.
“My family has no interest in redeveloping the land,” Pulte said.
Mayor Bing, who has been an outspoken advocate of demolishing abandoned buildings, applauded the project, saying it’s an efficient way to rid the city of blight without using tax dollars.
“I think we are on to something great,” Bing said. “They are going to make a significant difference in how we fix this city.”
So what’s next with the land?
It’s prime real estate. The soil is nutrient-dense, and it’s near Eastern Market, downtown and the freeways.
Several groups are looking to use the property, which is virtually all owned by the city. Among those interested are the adjacent Detroit Edison Public School Academy, urban gardeners and advocates of dredging up a long-buried river.
Here is a video of the land after it was flattened:
Check back for ongoing coverage of this authority.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.