As Hiram E. Jackson tells the story, a young man named Lucius Harper arrived in area of Detroit known as Paradise Valley with $135 in his pocket and the goal of opening a Black newspaper in the city. The year was 1936 – a bold move for Harper and his investors, who wanted to advocate for the rights of Black people not only in Detroit but everywhere.
“He had to have some strength in his spine,” said Jackson of Harper, who founded the Michigan Chronicle within this celebrated Detroit neighborhood.
Flash forward to 2016, and Jackson was one of nearly two dozen people who gathered Wednesday to announce the creation of a new neighborhood – one that would honor Detroit’s Black heritage, one that would not hide the past, one that would celebrate the city’s redevelopment and one that would give fresh life to an area known for arts, culture, food and entertainment.
Paradise Valley Cultural and Entertainment District brought together Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit Economic Growth Corp. CEO Rod Miller, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones along with the five Detroit-based firms approved to redevelop the area for a press conference at Beatrice Buck Park – a park that not only highlights the neighborhood’s history as Harmonie Park and Paradise Valley, but acknowledges its past as Germantown.
In other words, the people who sought out, fought for and won the bids to rebuild the new Paradise Valley represent “the past, present and future,” of Detroit, said Moddie Turay, the DEGC’s Executive Vice President for Real Estate.
Here’s the bottom line: Wednesday was a significant date in Detroit’s revitalization because its Downtown Development Authority brought forward a comprehensive plan to redevelop nine properties in a historically significant Detroit neighborhood. In all, some $52.4 million will be invested with the property-purchase prices, new construction and renovates in these buildings, alleys and infrastructure, including parks and outdoor spaces.
The Paradise Valley Cultural & Entertainment District will include five existing buildings and four surface lots. The project will gain commercial as well as retail space, lots of residential units of all price points and sizes, a new boutique hotel, restaurants and entertainment venues within the next three years.
How did this project happen? It goes back as far as the 1920s, when Detroit’s Paradise Valley, the business and entertainment district for Black Bottom and nearby neighborhoods, began to grow. Internationally known artists including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong performed in Paradise Valley. Boxer Joe Louis hung out there. Indeed, it sounded like most of anybody who was anybody came to visit, live or work in the area (both because they had to and because they truly wanted to be there).
But then a freeway came sweeping through, eliminating Black Bottom and the many Black-owned businesses and residential areas there. Then crime and blight became significant deterrents to development. Then the Detroit City Council, hoping to preserve what Paradise Valley was and could be, purchased the buildings and lots in 2006.
Ten years later, the time had finally arrived where investors, business owners and building tenants wanted better. They wanted to bring their companies home, like Jackson’s Michigan Chronicle and Paradise Valley Real Estate Holdings II. His group plans to build a new 189,660-square-foot building on three parking lots on Randolph Street, adding 60 apartments, a five-story parking deck and a first-floor retail space in addition to the home of his Real Times Media.
There is Rainy Hamilton Jr, president of the Hamilton Development Corp., who brought in Hamilton Anderson Associates when it was mostly just him working as an architect to grow the business to 70-plus people and step up to buy his building, add a 16,000 square foot addition and a new parking lot.
There is Patricia Cole and Roger Basmajian, partners who will bring the Harmonie Club Hotel to life at 311 E. Grand River. The 36,000-square-foot building will be a 25- or 30-room hotel with a theater and banquet hall.
Also included is Gotham Capital Partners, which has the well-known managing partner in Dennis Archer Jr. They will renovate 1407 and 1427 Randolph Street with a music lounge, restaurant and office spaces.
Finally, they are joined by La Casa Properties LLC with Ismail Houmani as its principal. They are purchasing and rehabbing 1502 Randolph Street, which now has his La Casa Cigars and Lounge. That space will remain the same but six apartments will become available as he reworks the floor plan of his newly purchased building.
It’s a huge undertaking. It will be controversial (some tenants must leave; others may feel left out of the new building boom; some will take offense at the name’s use because the original Paradise Valley was closer to Ford Field and the freeway than this spot). But it is happening. And it is real. And it is going to take an otherwise under-developed portion of Detroit and ignite it in new and exciting ways.
It is, as Rod Miller noted, an “economic engine” for Detroit, its overall redevelopment and its goal of being a world-class city. It is bringing an iconic neighborhood into the lives of modern Detroiters, as Charlie Beckham, director of Neighborhoods for Mayor Duggan, noted. It will be collaborative, as Archer Jr. added.
It will bring Detroit’s history, culture and determination forward – front and center, where it belongs, Duggan added. “Its history and tradition lives on in the hearts of Detroiters,” he said. “Detroit is being rebuilt by Detroiters.”
The new Paradise Valley will honor the cultural vibrancy and economic vitality and resilience of the former Paradise Valley, the historic African American neighborhood eliminated by urban renewal efforts in the 1950s and 1960s. It includes five private developments and the creation of the Paradise Valley Conservancy to actively program public spaces with cultural and entertainment activities that celebrate the African American legacy of the original Paradise Valley.
1468-1498 Randolph. $27 million land purchase and mixed use new construction, retail, residential, parking. Developer: Paradise Valley Real Estate Holdings, II, LLC. Hiram E. Jackson, Managing Partner.
Harmonie Club Hotel
311 E. Grand River. $13.6 million purchase and renovation of vintage building as boutique hotel, restaurant, art gallery and banquet/entertainment venue. Developer: 311 E. Grand River, LLC., Patricia Cole & Roger Basmajian, Partners.
1402 & 1427 Randolph. $2.7 million purchase and renovation of existing buildings as jazz lounge, restaurant and office space. Developer: Gotham Capital Partners, Dennis Archer Jr., Managing Partner.
Randolph Centre Building
1435 Randolph/1455 Centre. $7 million purchase and expansion of existing office building on adjacent parking lot. Developer: Randolph Centre 2020, LLC, Rainy Hamilton, Jr., FAIA, NOMA, Managing Member.
La Casa Cigars & Lounge
1402 Randolph. $1.5 million purchase and improvements to existing building as cigar lounge, store and apartments. Developer: La Casa Properties, LLC, Ismail Houmani, Principal.