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.”

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.

  • OneCanOnlyHope

    Guyton’s a con….

  • LAHeat

    Wow, “perhaps, someone really does want the land!” Yeah, right! The land is so scarce and going for top dollar that someone is torching it so that Guyton (who doesn’t own it) is forced to sell. Yeah, OK, LoL!

    And the comment about preventing photographers from selling images of the Heidelberg are priceless! Copyright laws generally protect works of art? The operative phrase being “works of art?” So far no violation! LoL a second time. Yeah, OK! I guess art is in the eyes of the beholder! Hmm, money from the fundraiser were not being spent as promised? Big surprise, 50K was never accounted for either! Nothing is ever accounted for from this project!

  • Denis Alfonso Rochac

    If you think you can just buy that land on the lower east side, you have another thing coming, Its been divided out. Its owned or in the proccess of being bought by a numebr of speculators. Hatnz, Shar recovery park, Eastern Market to name a few (calling these names out doesn’t mean ill will btw, i’m just calling out some players) I work in this community, I talk to people, they tell me suits have been knocking on their doors for a couple of years now offering them pennies a foot for their land. Talk to people on Mitchel north of Mack, or people on Chene. Go to Black Bottom Cuts and speak to the barbers. It’s not as easy as logging onto “Why Don’t we own this . com” or the land bank website. So just because it seems “crazy” to you doesnt mean its not the reality of the situation.

  • Denis Alfonso Rochac

    John Hantz is the arsonist

    • muckraker_steve

      Denis, don’t make ridiculous statements like this unless you have evidence.

      • Denis Alfonso Rochac

        Actually, I can make these comments here. It’s called a comment section. Did you reply to all the other slanderous comment directed to Tyree and Jennene? And maybe you’re correct that I need more evidence but some land grabber like Hantz is up to this.

        • muckraker_steve

          It is a comment section. And you don’t have a right to say whatever libelous things you want. I don’t know who burned down the houses, and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t write it without ample evidence.

          • Denis Alfonso Rochac

            I don’t have to adhere to any journalistic integrity because I’m not claiming it to be true nor am I journalist. So if I want to say something I can. You don’t have to agree with it.

          • muckraker_steve

            Or I can revoke your commenting privileges. Keep it classy.

        • I thought you were joking and laughed when I saw the comment. Then I saw Steve chastising you and though, “WTF Steve, that was funny!”. But you’re serious and now I weep for all of man.

          I think if someone were to engage in a high profile arson campaign to gain control of a relatively small tract of land, that land would have to have some innate and specific value. Especially given the easy availability of the surrounding land and the fact that the project would add value to any development on the surrounding land. I mean, from an evil capitalist perspective, I don’t understand how this would be economic sense. Even more so when you consider the downside of a felony conviction.

          This isn’t an episode of The A-Team, this is real life.

          • Denis Alfonso Rochac

            it started out as a joke (kinda) I’ve been there to hear Mike Score (John right hand man) lie to people about “jobs” and growing food for the community. I found it funny that Steve was all up in shit but allows people to talk about how Ty and J are all crazy for being suspicious but he chooses to chastise me because I’m not following “journalistic integrity” in a comments section. I know its far fetched, I’m not some tinfoil hat wearing wacko (I do think that those people are probably correct in some sense), but I’m free to say what I want and If I want to use some rich guys name as a joke, I can. BTW truth is always stranger than fiction and I’ve been around Detroit to understand that sometimes it is like a episode of scooby doo in these parts.

    • Gary

      He pays his taxes and water bill

  • What a ridiculous and self-serving statement from Guyton’s wife. Others already own all but four of the lots. Anyone who may want such ‘desirable’ land can just buy it in the tax auction, or if the taxes are not in arrears, negotiate with the property owners. Burning that trash does nothing to aid anyone who wants the land.