Mayor Mike Duggan will make an announcement Thursday morning about the fate of the historic Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center in Detroit, raising hopes that the city is close to finding a developer to prevent demolition.
Duggan warned earlier this month that the abandoned building where Joe Louis learned to box would be demolished soon if a reputable developer didn’t come forward with a realistic plan. Optimism wasn’t high because the city had been unable to find a new owner since closing the art deco building eight years ago this week.
Fears of demolition prompted at least two protests, and Councilwoman Mary Sheffield has been working with the city in hopes of delaying its demolition.
Hopes are high after some recent positive signs. More than a dozen city workers converged on the building to remove years of trash and debris and mow the lawn over the weekend. The city also hired a security guard to protect the building 24/7.
The rec center in Brush Park is an important part of Detroit history. Named after the first black city recreation worker, Leon Wheeler, the building was converted into a community center after city officials rejected calls to integrate the spacious, first-rate YMCA in downtown Detroit in 1929.
After decades of success, the recreation center and adjacent housing project thinned out as poverty and crime took over.
The squatty building has been an eyesore for years, covered with graffiti and scavenged of everything of value. If ever there was a time for redevelopment, it’s now. Just to the west of Brush Park is a $650 million project to build a Red Wings arena and entertainment district by mid-2017.
The adjacent Brewster Brewster Housing Projects were recently demolished, and the city is taking development ideas for Brush Park.
Duggan’s press conference is at 9 a.m. outside of the recreation center.
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.