For decades, the specter of Ambassador Bridge customs plaza expansion has loomed over the Hubbard Richard neighborhood, comprising an existential threat that has diminished quality of life and hindered development. It is a heartbreaking history where past plaza expansions have seen residents displaced, homes razed, and thousands of commercial trucks next to people’s backyards on a daily basis.
Despite this, Hubbard Richard has thrived. New homes have been built, vibrant businesses established, and world-class amenities added. Every step of our success has been powered by a diverse and tight-knit community that remains as strong and resolute as it ever has been.
But while the Hubbard Richard community isn’t going anywhere, neither is the Ambassador Bridge.
That is why the Hubbard Richard Resident Association (HRRA) recently signed an unprecedented resident-driven community benefits agreement with the bridge’s owner, the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC). The agreement brings together the DIBC, HRRA, and the City to provide Hubbard Richard with the strongest protections it has ever had against further DIBC encroachment into our residential community.
This decision was not made lightly. It comes after nearly a year of organizing, continuous debate, and discussion with neighbors. There were frequent community meetings on the topic and dozens of conversations with residents on front porches and in living rooms. Feedback was collected person-to-person, face-to-face, listening directly to those who call Hubbard Richard home.
From the outset, engagement happened in both the community and City Hall. At the Council table, we effectively delayed the transfer of 3085 W. Jefferson from the City to the DIBC; and used the issue to raise awareness about the lived realities impacting Hubbard Richard residents. In past years, the concerns of Hubbard Richard residents have been too easily cast aside by some decision makers. We didn’t let that happen this time. In response, the DIBC agreed to come to the table and hash out a deal with the community that addressed their ongoing concerns.
In the end, the neighborhood conceded to something it long sought to prevent: the closing of a portion of St. Anne Street and further plaza expansion into agreed-upon areas the DIBC already owns – an extremely bitter pill to swallow. In exchange, the neighborhood is receiving legally binding protections, as well as up to 11 donated properties that are a more powerful blockade against unchecked expansion than any verbal or written promise. These donated properties have long sat vacant and will be transformed into affordable housing, pocket parks, or other valuable assets for the neighborhood. Even though these properties come with as much as $200,000 for redevelopment, bringing new life to these vacant spaces will be difficult, and will require significant cooperation with partners, the City, and other funders.
We are the first to admit this deal is not perfect. There is still much more work to be done and trust yet to be earned. The DIBC-Hubbard Richard story is an acrimonious one, written by generations of resident-activists and filled with quarrel and trauma. We hope this agreement will lead to a new era of mutual respect and cooperation between the DIBC and HRRA, but only time will tell.
In the meantime, no longer haunted by the threat of unchecked plaza expansion, Hubbard Richard is poised to shape its own future like never before.
Gabriela Santiago-Romero is the Detroit City Council Member representing District 6.
Sam Butler is the president of Hubbard Richard Resident Association.