Arts & Culture, City Transformation, Conservation

Here’s the rest of the story about what will happen at Detroit’s Historic Fort Wayne

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The big news over the past few days regarding Fort Wayne has been all about how the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service Midwest Region are partnering on a project to revitalize this historic landmark.

But those stories missed a few things. Well, a lot of things. Here’s the straight scoop and then some. (Warning: I feel a rant coming on.)

• This is a partnership that involves the city of Detroit. The City still owns this landmark 83-acre site on the Detroit River.
• This site is not a “blank slate” where the National Park Service is taking over and starting something new. Revitalization efforts have been going on for some time.
• Fort Wayne may have challenges ahead. But it is a vibrant site with huge (let me restate that) HUGE recreational and cultural opportunities at its feet.

fort 3Now, I make those points early and with emphasis because David Goldstein is the kind of guy who wants to make sure that everyone knows the skinny on this important project. Goldstein talked to me recently about this partnership announcement, and I gotta say that his passion for Fort Wayne, its potential and this project are worth noting and then some.

Goldstein and the National Park Service itself that wants the world to know that it is proud to work with the city of Detroit, Fort Wayne’s volunteers and stewards, the many people (we’re talking 150,000-plus visitors) who come to the Fort and the thousands of kids who use the Fort’s property all summer long.

In other words, they’re not coming in, guns blazing. They’re not taking over (not that anyone said they were). They’re coming in to compliment the many plans already created and find the RIGHT way to bring Fort Wayne to its full potential.

But it will take time. It will take effort. It will take many, MANY people to make it happen according to the city’s needs, the people’s interests and with regard to the structure’s historic nature. No single person or entity will make this happen, Goldstein notes. Many hands will need to participate, and that’s just how Detroiters like it.

Here’s the news: The Kresge Foundation recently awarded a $265,000 grant for the two-year project through its Detroit Program. (As an aside, bless the Kresge Foundation for its many, many investments in Detroit and cities across the United States.)

“The big issue here is that like a lot of things in Detroit, people see things as a blank slate,” Goldstein said. People act like there isn’t anything going on, especially at a place like Fort Wayne, which doesn’t toot its horn a lot for attention.

fort 3Goldstein was quick to note that, in fact, there is “a lot going on at the Fort, but much of it is flying under the radar. It’s not like it is going unused. There are 2,000 kids who play soccer there on the weekends. Some 40 people from Army corps of engineers work there on a daily basis. More than 100,000 visitors come through annually for tours.

“There’s a lot going on there,” Goldstein said. “It just happens to not look so great.”

That much is certainly true. There are buildings on the Fort grounds that are in severe disrepair. They look horrid, in my fine opinion, after visiting there in December for a Christmas tour. I’d say that those buildings in particular are in such disrepair that they likely cannot be fixed. But many building specialists have proven me wrong before, so here’s hoping.

But what Goldstein wants Detroiters to think about is how other military surplus properties like Fort Wayne have become across the nation. The National Park Service has been involved with many of these properties, which have gone from “rags to riches” over their lifetimes. These properties are in many states of disrepair. Revitalization takes decades. But when they come around, the result can be amazing. Art spaces. Public parks. Beauty beyond compare.

And that’s what this project brings to our Fort Wayne. Look, Goldstein, notes, the city of Detroit owns 83 acres of waterfront property here. Read that again: 83 acres of waterfront property. Gold mine. Cultural icon in potential. Southwest Detroit revitalization landmark.

fort 4Some more background: The National Park Service wanted to be part of this because not only it is celebrating its 100th year, but it is looking closely at its Urban Agenda during its second century. According to the Fort Wayne press release, the National Park Service recognizes that 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas today. As such, the federal agency deployed urban fellows to 10 U.S. cities in 2015 to provide programming help and expertise—including Detroit.

That is where our friend Goldstein comes in. He is a NPS Urban Fellow, an anthropologist and Park Service ranger who grew up in the Detroit metro area. He will serve as the interim project director before a consultant is hired in the spring of 2017. The grant will fund a consultant to work with city officials to develop a comprehensive strategic plan, including a timeline for implementation, by Dec. 31, 2017.

Goldstein said the consultant’s primary responsibility is to establish an advisory group of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders to guide the planning process. The consultant will also be charged with creating a leasing program for the City of Detroit, which will allow for the renovation and use of the more than 30 military buildings in the fort complex. An RFP is expected to be released by spring 2018 to seek proposals from prospective tenants, including community and cultural organizations, to renovate and lease buildings on the fort grounds.

f6Fort Wayne, with a rich Native American and military history, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The historic site has been owned by the City of Detroit since 1974, and is operated by the Parks and Recreation Department with assistance from the non-profit Historic Fort Wayne Coalition. The National Park Service provides guidance regarding use and restoration of the historic property.

The National Park Service’s foundation also will help with funding to bring this natural and cultural resource back, Goldstein added. So you will see rehab. You will see restoration. You will see new life. But you’re going to have to be patient. After all, Fort Wayne has been there for a long time. And, with this project, it will continue to be there and in fine form, for generations to come.

“This gem will stay in the city’s hands, and there are a lot of good people who want to be part of this,” Goldstein added.

Count me in as well.

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