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Student architects to help revitalize Detroit’s historic Brush Park through one-of-a-kind competition

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In the months to come, you’ll start to see bands of architecture students roaming Detroit’s Brush Park, seeking answers to some pressing questions about what urban architecture should look like, how to best develop a mixed-use community and how to turn one of the city’s most promising neighborhoods into a thriving, walkable urban paradise.

An example of what Brush Park might look like in the future.

An example of what Brush Park might look like in the future.

No, that’s not an exaggeration – Brush Park could be a little slice of city heaven with the help of nearly 40 students, advisors and professors from the University of Detroit-Mercy, Lawrence Technological University and Illinois Institute of Technology. Bedrock Real Estate Services along with the Brush Park Development Co. selected these three universities to compete in a wide-reaching effort to revitalize one of Detroit’s most promising neighborhoods.

On Monday, the group came together for an orientation session at the Ecumenical Theological Society on Woodward to discuss the Student Architecture Ideas Competition. The room was filled with bright eyes, wise educators and lots of plaid. That combination of youthful moxie and experience created an electric atmosphere where it truly felt like Detroit was on the cusp (again) of something great.

Look, Detroit is already great. Brush Park’s redevelopment is going to make it even greater. This Ideas Competition is just one more way that community groups, block clubs, CDCs, residents and remarkable investors are going to up Detroit’s value beyond measure. It’s going to help establish Brush Park as one of the most attractive places to live within Detroit with access to jobs, transportation, recreation, retail and more. It’s pretty darn exciting.

This fall, each of the three universities will dedicate one of their studios to the Brush Park project. The goal, explained Melissa Dittmer of Bedrock, is to develop a mixed-use project that puts people of all income levels, ages and experiences in a top-notch residential and retail development. While professional architecture firms will take on the bulk of the project, the students will have their own special section to dream about, experiment on and develop in a real and substantial way.

An example of what Brush Park might look like in the future.

An example of what Brush Park might look like in the future.

At the end of the semester, Bedrock plans to post all of their work on its project website and display it in a public exhibition. The juried competition includes cash prizes: First prize, $3,000 and a paid architecture internship at Bedrock; Second prize: $2,000; Third prize: $1,000.

“We feel pretty passionate that the success of this project will set a tone for Detroit redevelopment going forward,” said Dittmer, director of architecture and design for Bedrock.

It is going to be innovative, strategic and, most of all, accessible to many income levels, Pittmer noted. It will be a socially equitable development with at least 20 percent affordable housing. That means diversity in the best possible way, all within reach of anyone who wants to live in Detroit – single people, young families, retirees and many, many more.

Monday’s orientation session made one thing abundantly clear: There is so much potential for these student architects within Brush Park. There are 8.4 acres within this historic district, which (sadly) has been stripped of many of its architectural jewels. However, there are many neighbors who are working deliberately to ensure the remaining Victorian homes are maintained. The most key aspect of this project is that there are tons of publicly owned parcels in a concentration that makes Brush Park ripe for development.

Brush 4“Detroit is on the precipice of new residential and mixed-used construction,” Dittmer said. “Having public input along with this competition … will help Detroit set the standard and become the epicenter of urban strategy. … This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Residents, area historians, real-estate experts and community representatives came to Monday’s meeting, showing how focused this effort will be. Students got to tour the area, see inside residents’ current homes, hear about what residents truly wanted in terms of design and check out area landmarks, including the Ecumenical Theological Center (2930 Woodward Avenue, a stunning educational center and religious institution; awesome meeting site!) as well as the Nicole Curtis/HGTV “Rehab Addict” project at the venerable Ransom Gillis mansion. Midtown Detroit was also there, showing its support for this project and its promise to share the wealth of retailers and residents who want to live nearby.

Background: The Brush Park project will be a 47-parcel new residential development in Detroit’s historic Brush Park neighborhood. A four-block area of Brush Park will be completely transformed under a development agreement between the City of Detroit and Brush Park Development Company LLC.

The majority of the four-block area, which is generally bounded by Edmund Street to the north, John R to the west, Brush to the east and Alfred to the south, will be new residential construction designed to complement the existing neighborhood architecture. Both for-sale and for-rent options will be available.

The Nicole Curtis/HGTV "Rehab Addict" project at the Ransom Gillis mansion.

The Nicole Curtis/HGTV “Rehab Addict” project at the Ransom Gillis mansion.

Among the partners of Brush Park Development Company, LLC are: Marvin Beatty, Darrell Burks, Freman Hendrix, Pamela Rodgers, Sam Thomas and Bedrock. This well-respected group of Detroit investors is said to be highly involved in the community for decades and each brings a diverse expertise to Brush Park. Each has represented various stakeholder interests across all sectors of the city, including development, civic involvement, finance and security.

The announcement is the second major development for the Brush Park area. Mayor Mike Duggan also recently announced a development agreement for the historic Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center, which will include new restaurants, community programs, up to 150 new residential units and a one-acre public green space. Duggan also said that this project, like Brewster Wheeler, will have significant local and minority participation.

Brush Park Development Company’s internal project team includes development, finance, architectural and real estate professionals from Bedrock. Externally, the Brush Park Development Company team is working with Hamilton Anderson Associates and Giffels Webster. Project advisors include Henry Ford Health System and The Skillman Foundation.

Restoration on the area’s historic houses began this summer, and work on the new residential construction also is expected to begin by the end of 2015. Completion of the project is expected to be in 2017.

For more information about the student competition or Brush Park, visit www.BrushParkDetroit.com. Competition entries are due the first week of December. A Jury will view the presentations during the week of Dec. 7. Winners will be announced and exhibited at a public event.

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17 comments on “Student architects to help revitalize Detroit’s historic Brush Park through one-of-a-kind competition

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    • Thank you. The writer of this blog, Karen Dybis, is the author of two books —  Better Made in Michigan: The Salty Story of Detroit’s Best Chip and The Ford-Wyoming Drive-In: Cars, Candy & Canoodling in the Motor City. 

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