Mayor Mike Duggan announced this morning that the city was issuing a request for proposals (or RFP) for the historically important Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center to be redeveloped. The building is a 51,780 square-foot facility that sits on a 6.2 acre lot south of Mack Avenue near the iconic Brewster-Douglass Projects, which are near being demolished. The Rec Center closed in 2006 due to low participation, a crumbling building, and a dwindling budget.At a press conference today in the parking lot of the currently dilapidated structure, the Mayor office said they would like to see a proposal with a sound business plan which will allow the building to be actively used for years to come. Possibilities are open to interpretation, but the mayor was very clear on the fact that the historical significance of the location be included and embraced in the proposed plan.
“We have to decide if we’re going to rebuild the city in a way that erases our past and history, or in a way that embraces our past and history. I’m all for rebuilding the city in a way that embraces the past,” said Duggan.
Mayor Duggan emphasized that now is the time for redevelopment of the Rec Center as other projects, like the M-1 Rail and new Red Wings arena are becoming reality. The center is in a prime location right next to the I-75 service drive just north of Ford Field and Greektown, and immediately adjacent to eastern market, with a walkover that crosses the freeway. It’s also a place that community cares about, and has been pushing to save.“The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center has a deep, personal history in our city. With all of the other positive developments going on around it, it feels like the time may be right for the right developer to come forward the with the right plan,” said Duggan.
The Rec Center originally opened in 1929. It was managed by Leon Wheeler until 1945, the city’s first black recreation worker who established programs for the youth in the neighborhood. Activities included swimming, boxing, billiards, woodcraft, glee club, tap dancing, ukulele, track, tennis, drama, and dancing. It was a haven for children with athletic programs and classes that kept many kids occupied and out of trouble.
A young Joe Louis spent hours sparring in the basement as part of the boxing program led by Alter “Kid” Ellis. Barry Gordy, who was also a boxer prior to his music career was said to have been part of the program as well. Diana Ross lived down the street in the Brewster Projects and was said to frequent the center.
The Mayor’s Office encourages community groups, developers and collaborations between interested parties that can find a way to keep the building alive. You can see the RFP issued for development on the city website.