Over the last few years, more than a dozen neighborhoods across Detroit have worked on developing framework plans to set forth a long-term, cohesive visions for their area. One prominent neighborhood, which has been notably absent from much of the city’s growth, just staked its own claim to the future.
On September 18, the Greektown Neighborhood Partnership (GNP) released its “neighborhood framework vision” after a press conference near the Firebird Tavern in the heart of Greektown.
“Greektown really only had two options: Either to raise our voices and set a course for this neighborhood. Or to essentially get drowned out by other voices in the crowd,” John Warner, director of neighborhood development at GNP, said at the event. “We picked the former option.”
The over 250-page document seeks to take advantage of the neighborhood’s distinct Greek identity and central location—it’s situated right in the middle of important gathering points like Campus Martius, Comerica Park, and the Renaissance Center; as well as massive in-progress developments like the the East Riverfront, Monroe Blocks, and potential I-375 transition to a surface street.
Greektown also has major challenges. Around half of the area’s land is undeveloped, and much of that is surface parking lots. There are no parks or plazas. The vast majority of the buildings are single-use, which isn’t conducive to a walkable, 24-hour neighborhood.
In 2017, recognizing the need to modernize, GNP began developing the plan, which was privately funded by community stakeholders like Bedrock, Greektown Casino, and prominent owners of local businesses like Pegasus Taverna, Astoria Pastry Shop, and Fishbones. It also recently hired its first executive director, Melanie Markowicz.
The plan, which was created in partnership with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), a prominent urban planning firm that also worked on the East Riverfront Framework, has several main goals and consistent themes: improving connections to the rest of downtown, increasing density, creating a central corridor on Monroe Street, increasing public spaces and pedestrian access, and adding mixed-use elements.
A lot of these concepts are interconnected. For example, the framework recommends building on the numerous surface lots and supplementing parking with both above- and below-ground structures.
It also identifies four potential public spaces: a triangular plaza at Monroe and Randolph streets that could be the “gateway” to Greektown, an area called “Clinton Park” near Gratiot Avenue, a park on the south side at Saint Antoine Street, and a pocket park off Beaubien Street. There would also be activated alleys, wayfinding signage, and streets that could be easily closed off for public programming.
Monroe is seen as the main neighborhood corridor. The plan calls for it to become a “complete street” that’s easily accessible to all forms of transit. There would be wide sidewalks; planters, seating, lighting, and signage; dedicated spaces for drop offs and pickups; and a diverse mix of ground-floor retail.
Of course implementation of these strategies is no easy feat and will take years of working with the city, state, and other funders, as well as encouraging property owners to sell or develop. GNP outlines some possible incentives to encourage building, like getting historic designations which would make it available for tax credits. It will work with public authorities to create incentive packages and rezone certain parcels to make building easier. Streetscape improvements would be handled by the city as well.
In the interim, Greektown plans on doing some activation through popup retail and other kinds of programming. It also hopes to begin working immediately on the Monroe-Randolph plaza with construction potentially starting by the end of the year.
GNP hopes to implement all or most of the proposals over the next 10 years.
Greektown stakeholders believe this framework plan will bring the neighborhood fully into the 21st century. “Where there’s no vision, the people perish,” Marvin Beatty, vice president of community and public relations of Greektown Casino, said at the press conference. “Well, we have a vision. And we have every intent of implementing it to its fullest.”