Email: Heidelberg Project director suspects arsonists want land, turns over surveillance

Heidelberg Project
Heidelberg Project house. (Steve Neavling/MCM)

The operators of the Heidelberg Project have been quiet about who they suspect burned down five of their houses in the past year and torched an adjacent artist’s house last week.

Jenenne Whitfield
Jenenne Whitfield

But in an e-mail obtained by Motor City Muckraker, the nonprofit’s director, Jennene Whitfield, told some of her supporters Monday “that perhaps someone really does want the land.”

“What else is there to think since each of the structures that have been set ablaze are unoccupied? It’s horrifying to know that this has gone on for so long without being solved.
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Whitfield also said she turned over video that was captured by cameras purchased with some of the more than $50,000 that the Heidelberg Project raised last year while an arsonists was targeting art-adorned houses on the east side neighborhood of McDougall-Hunt.

“Arson Investigators and the ATF were on site and eventually came to our office to retrieve footage from our camera,” Whitfield wrote. “There is evidence of an intruder but that’s all we know. Everything is extremely hush-hush at this time.”

Whitfield has declined interviews since we published a story in March questioning the nonprofit’s spending. Tax records show that the Heidelberg Project drained its savings in 2012 because it hired an additional three employees despite losing more than half of its annual funding in one year.

The nonprofit owns just four properties inside the project area, and all of those are empty lots. Since 2007, Wayne County seized eight of the nonprofit’s properties in a tax foreclosure.

Just last week in the tax auction, the Heidelberg Project had an opportunity to buy three other properties that artist Tyree Guyton has adorned with salvaged materials but failed to make a bid on any of them in the Wayne County tax auction.

The remains of a charred Heidelberg Project house. (Steve Neavling/MCM)

The Heidelberg is holding another fundraiser but has only raised $270 so far – $200 of which is from Guyton.

The nonprofit’s image has been hurting since the fundraiser. Guyton alarmed visitors and neighbors with erratic behavior; employees prevented photographers from selling images of the Heidelberg; and money for the fundraiser wasn’t spent as promised.

Steve Neavling

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.