By JC Reindl
Detroit Free Press Business Writer
One of the largest private blight cleanup projects in Detroit history is now under way in the city’s hard-hit Brightmoor neighborhood.
Spearheaded by the recently formed nonprofit Detroit Blight Authority, the cleanup initiative is targeting a trash-strewn 14-block area that encompasses 500 residential lots and about 70 vacant structures, including numerous ransacked and burned-out houses.
The Blight Authority says it would like to continue with the project beyond cleanup, and demolish structures in future phases. However, it’s unclear how that would be paid for.
Residents say the area has been an illegal dumping ground for years, attracting crime and metal scrappers, and lowering their quality of life.
“This was one of the baddest trashed streets in the neighborhood,” said Myron Fox, 26, who lives within the cleanup zone.
The Brightmoor project is the second for Bill Pulte IV’s Blight Authority, which is taking a large-scale approach to addressing Detroit’s problems with rubbish and vacant structures. A report last month by emergency manager Kevyn Orr estimated the number of vacant structures in the city at nearly 80,000.
Pulte, the Blight Authority’s chairman and founder, said his organization has no interest in owning the land it helps clear. The authority simply aims to improve residents’ quality of life and prime Detroit for any potential reinvestment, he said.
“We just want to create a blight-free zone,” said Pulte, grandson of the founder of PulteHomes.
Work crews arrived in Brightmoor about 10 days ago and began collecting rubbish and clearing brush. The three contractors are on pace to complete the nonstructural phase of their work within three to four weeks, and depending on future private or government financing, move on to razing the structures.
What happens after the cleanup work “is up to the community,” Pulte said. “They’re the ones that know best and we’re not going to tell them what to do.”
The targeted 14-block zone is bounded by West Outer Drive, Lyndon and Trinity streets and split laterally by Eaton Avenue. Crews used earth-moving equipment to round up and deposit an estimated 70,000 pounds of rubbish into temporary piles near the corner of Chapel Street and Eaton Avenue.
The scrap heaps — including about 200 tires and 14 discarded boats — will be trucked away and, when possible, recycled, Pulte said.
The body of an unidentified man was also found late last week within the blight zone near a vacant structure, said Jeff Adams, chairman of the nonprofit Brightmoor Alliance, a partner in the clearance project. Detroit police responded to the discovery, he said.
The project’s contractors have hired 22 local residents for the clearance work.
The authority is also partnering with Motor City Blight Busters, a nonprofit that has headed numerous smaller-scale community projects over 25 years.
The $500,000 Brightmoor cleanup is more than twice as big as the Blight Authority’s kick-off project completed in February, which cleared 218 lots over 10 days within 10 smaller blocks near Detroit’s Eastern Market.
The Eastern Market project and the nonstructural phase of the Brightmoor project are financed entirely with private funds. Financial contributors for the Brightmoor project include the Skillman Foundation, DTE Foundation, the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and the Pulte family.
State government funds could come into play eventually for about 30 of the 70 vacant structures in Brightmoor that are within a clearance zone targeted by the Michigan Land Bank. The Blight Authority is trying to obtain additional private and government funds to complete the remaining 40 planned demolitions, Pulte said.
“This is a massive problem and will require funding from many sources — not just a few key families,” Pulte said.
To expand its effort across the city, the Blight Authority has applied for a share of the nearly $100 million in unspent money from the federal Hardest Hit Fund, which was set up under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.
Kirk Mayes, executive director of the Brightmoor Alliance, said years of illegal dumping in Brightmoor created bad rodent problems in the neighborhood and a scary environment for children walking to the nearby Gompers Elementary-Middle School.
The cleanup project, although still incomplete, already appears to be having a positive impact on daily life, he said.
“It’s definitely improved the area’s look and a lot of people now are coming outside who usually don’t come outside,” Mayes said.
Contact JC Reindl: 313-222-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow on twitter @JCReindl