A tenants rights organizer and community advocate were the first two Detroiters selected by their neighbors to represent residents living near a planned $3 billion hospital, research and housing development in New Center.
Residents who attended a Tuesday meeting voted for Joanne Adams and Steven Rimmer to fill two of nine seats on a neighborhood advisory council. The group is responsible for working with project developers to create a community agreement ultimately approved by the City Council. Twenty-three Detroiters stepped forward to serve, which makes up the candidate pool for the remaining seven seats – four positions will be selected by the Detroit Planning Department and three selected by City Council members.
The neighborhood advisory council is required under a Detroit law triggered by the development’s massive investment and an anticipated request for more than $1 million in tax abatements. Henry Ford Health, Michigan State University and the Detroit Pistons are partnering on the multi-phase project that will include a new hospital wing, research facilities and 600 units of mixed-income housing.
“This is a health system, a public university and a basketball team really coming together to make a positive impact on this neighborhood,” said Pistons Chief Operating Officer Rich Haddad, adding that the project could “attract more investment and more development and bring more good things to New Center.”
Candidates discussed a range of possible benefits and protections they would seek through an agreement with the development team. The nominees highlighted a need to prevent a jump in the cost of living, create access for locally-owned businesses, ensure housing is affordable for working families and create jobs for residents.
Eighty-three residents voted on Tuesday. Rimmer collected 41 votes, while Adams collected 20 votes. Both are members of the West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, which represents a collection of community organizations. Each candidate signed an affidavit affirming they have no financial interest in Henry Ford, MSU or the Pistons.
“The reason I started to organize was to help educate myself and my neighbors on the rights we have as renters and advocate for better living conditions in our community,” Rimmer said.
The homeownership rate ranges between 18 percent and 40 percent for residents living in three census tracts making up the impact area. The population is majority-Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
There are an estimated 6,000 residents living in 3,468 households in the area. Roughly 28 percent of residents are living in poverty. The median income ranges between $46,090 and $59,591 across the three census tracts.
“We must unite to protect our neighborhood and grow with it. I’m not against neighborhood development, but I do want to assure that my community is not pushed to the side,” Rimmer said. “The housing, the history and the people in this neighborhood must be preserved and protected throughout this development process.”
Adams, a Virginia Park resident, said she works closely with the West Grand Boulevard Collaborative to hold Henry Ford to a 2019 community benefits agreement negotiated for the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion.
“I understand the complexity of this project and I also understand the effects it’s having on the community,” Adams said. “I will fight for real community benefits and protections; ones that don’t expire, ones that give us community sustainability and self determination, ones where investments multiply within and lift up our community rather than getting extracted to already bloated bank accounts.”
Diane McMillon was the next runner-up, collecting 16 votes. She’s a 20-year resident of the New Center area and served on past neighborhood advisory councils, including the negotiating team for the Pistons Performance Facility.
Stephan Bobalik got nine votes. Bobalik is treasurer of the Community Association for New Center Area and vice president of the New Center Commons Condominium Association, when he’s not working as senior director of development for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.
Four members of the advisory council will be selected by Detroit Planning Director Antoine Bryant. City Council President Mary Sheffield and at-large Council Members Mary Waters and Coleman Young II will each select one of the remaining three members.
The Planning Department will contact members who are selected before an orientation session next Tuesday. Public meetings resume the following week. The Oct. 24 meeting is also expected to feature a presentation from the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. on how the project will be financed and what tax incentives will be sought by developers.
Henry Ford, MSU and the Pistons are taking on different aspects of the “Future of Health” project, which combine to form the overall $3 billion development. Projects are expected to finish construction between 2027 and 2029.
The Detroit Pistons will take ownership of Henry Ford’s administrative headquarters at One Ford Place and redevelop the building into apartments. Two other residential buildings are planned to be built across the street, adding at least 600 units of mixed-income housing to the area.
Twenty percent of the units, around 120, will be offered at reduced rent meant to be affordable for residents earning 50 percent of the area median income for Southeast Michigan. That equates to monthly rent set at $828 or lower for a studio apartment, $888 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,066 for a two-bedroom unit.
Henry Ford Health is primarily focused on expanding its hospital campus to the south side of Grand Boulevard and east side of I-94. A new emergency department meant to reduce wait times and provide more comfort to patients would be twice the size of the current facility and will include private rooms.
The emergency department would be housed within a patient tower that will include space for surgeries, radiology, diagnostics and other high intensity services. The nonprofit hospital also plans to build a second parking garage, a shared services building and a green energy facility providing clean power to the campus.
Michigan State University is planning to build its largest research facility yet on a parking lot on the east side of I-94 along Third Avenue. MSU officials said the facility will focus on cancer and hypertension research.
The Gilbert Family Foundation also announced a $375 million donation to add three floors to the patient tower for a 72-bed inpatient rehabilitation facility and a research lab inside the MSU facility that will work to find a cure for neurofibromatosis. Nick Gilbert, son of the billionaire founders of the foundation, died in May after living 26 years with the condition.