John Petz is director of real estate and public affairs at Domino’s Farms Corp., and co-chair of the Urban Land Institute Michigan Programs Committee.
The Grandmont Rosedale community in Detroit, Michigan has an impressive pedigree. Occupying approximately 2.5 square miles on the northwest side of the city, Grandmont Rosedale was originally mapped out by city planners during Detroit’s rapid growth period in the 1920s.
It’s an active community mostly made up of single-family homes – about 5,400 of them, and 14,400 residents.
While those homes have long defined the civic and social contours of Grandmont Rosedale, the residential landscape and neighborhood retail are also vulnerable – the community is particularly susceptible to damage wrought by the foreclosure crisis and resulting recessionary cycle in the late 2000s. Grandmont Rosedale’s owner-occupancy rate dropped from 90 percent in 2000 to 83 percent in 2016, and vacancies grew from 2 percent to 10 percent during the same period.
But the area is still rich with opportunity, as the neighborhood maintains a relatively high homeownership rate and low vacancy rate compared to other communities in and around Detroit. With the proper support and strategic investment, it could become a model for similar neighborhoods around Detroit and its aging, inner-ring suburbs.
Fortunately for area residents, the Grandmont Rosedale community has an advocate in the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC). GRDC purchases abandoned homes and rehabilitates them for sale, provides home repair grants, monitors and maintains vacant properties and renovates commercial buildings, among other support services.
Recently, the GRDC partnered with the Michigan District Council of the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization, to create a series of recommendations and achievable solutions.
The ULI’s Larson Center for Leadership convened a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) to advise the GRDC on how best to address the challenges facing the community, while capitalizing on the five neighborhoods’ existing advantages. Specifically, the panel was charged with analyzing opportunities for activating retail and diversifying the housing stock of a traditional single-family residential neighborhood bisected by a pass-through commercial corridor.
The result of the nearly six-month process was a report entitled Grandmont Rosedale, Detroit: Creating Density through Housing and Retail Diversification. Published last year by ULI Michigan and the Larson Center for Leadership, it outlines a series of strategies to maximize the full potential of the community. In the process, Grandmont Rosedale would diversify its infrastructure and create more of a “downtown” atmosphere to not only meet the needs of current residents, but attract and appeal to younger generations, as well. The report details the TAP’s four key recommendations.
Activate Grand Land Shopping Center
Located on a 511,000-square-foot site along Grand River, the shopping center is situated in a prime location in the heart of the community. The report recommends enhancing Grand Land by improving pedestrian connections, replacing surplus parking with green features, unifying signage and other upgrades.
Invest in neighborhood retail
The team outlined a plan to activate retail spaces along the Grand River corridor through physical changes, including parking, access and façade improvements. It also suggested a series of steps to increase retail exposure, including development of a unique brand or a market-specific identity for the Grand River corridor, similar to the Avenue of Fashion.
Build density in the housing market along Grand River
The panel recommended long- and short-term strategies focused on making multifamily projects financially viable in the future. More multifamily units could help Grandmont Rosedale move toward symbiosis between the residential and retail sectors.
Diversify housing options
A wider range of appealing multifamily and accessible senior living options will complement larger single family residences and help create the kind of long-term stability that comes with an inclusive community with housing options for all ages and demographic categories, particularly aging single-family homeowners who seek to remain in the neighborhood.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this report is its potential applicability to other analogous communities in and around Detroit. Many of these neighborhood areas or inner ring suburban communities (primarily bedroom communities with aging populations and modest neighborhood retail components) are in similar need of housing diversification and new retail opportunities.
While specifics will vary, similar themes, challenges and potential solutions make the Grandmont Rosedale report a potential model for other communities and community organizations to consider.