New housing, Joe Louis-themed restaurant to revive old Brewster projects area

Brewster Projects Rec Center
Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center

The abandoned, graffiti-scarred Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center, where boxing legend Joe Louis learned to fight, will be transformed into a restaurant, bar, culinary arts studio and community space as part of an ambitious $50 million to redevelop the long-neglected area near downtown Detroit.

The plan, announced Tuesday, includes up to 150 new residential units just south of the recreation center.

A group of local investors came up with the money to finance the redevelopment, which will pay homage to Joe Louis and the history of the now-demolished Brewster-Douglass housing projects, which was the first subsidized housing complex for African Americans in the the country.

The restaurant will be built atop the center’s basketball court, where the Harlem Globetrotters once played. A bar in another section of the building will be named after Leon Wheeler, the city’ first black recreation worker.

A restaurant will be built atop the basketball court at the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center. Steve Neavling/MCM
A restaurant will be built atop the basketball court at the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center. Steve Neavling/MCM

Mayor Mike Dugan praised the project.

“Every opportunity we have, we are going to preserve buildings like the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center that have a deep personal history in our city and do it in a way that provides real benefits to Detroit residents,” Mayor Duggan said. “When this redevelopment is completed, we will have a facility that honors the legacy of Joe Louis, Leon Wheeler and so many others, and re-establishes its connection to the community.”

The project goes beyond committing money. The investors, for example, are creating a culinary training school and giving placement priority to Alternatives for Girls, a nonprofit for women who are homeless or at risk of losing their home.

Those involved in the project are:

  • K.C. Crain, who is the COO of Detroit-based Crain Communications, along with Berkley’s Vinsetta Garage co-owner Curt Catallo and Union Joints, LLC, will lead the restoration of the 51,780 square-foot building and opening of the new restaurant and bar.   
  • Longtime Detroit area developers John Rhea and the Shostak Brothers will lead the construction of the new residential units.
  • Detroit-based Jenkins Construction, owned by life-long Detroiter Jim Jenkins, has been selected as a contractor by both development teams.

The building also will provide space for the Detroit Chess Club and Slow Roll, Inc., a nonprofit that organizes popular bicycle tours of Detroit.

The investors also have pledged to keep at least 20% of the housing units for lower-income people.

“This is a win-win for all parties involved.  I am proud to have this investment and development in heart of District 5,” Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said.  “I know this site will continue to be an anchor in the community.”

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.