Hantz Woodlands, which seeks to replace blight with trees, is close to receiving state approval for 150 acres of city-owned land on Detroit’s east side. The project is believed to be among the largest agricultural rejuvenation projects in the world.
By fall 2014, the Detroit-based company expects to plant 15,000 trees on scattered and adjoining lots in a 640-acre area bounded by Mack, Van Dyke, East Jefferson, and St. Jean (excluding Indian Village and other dense neighborhoods). Dozens of the lots already have been cleared of debris.
In addition, Hantz Woodlands, owned by John Hantz, president and CEO of the Hantz Group, a multi-faceted financial services firm in Southfield, has a verbal agreement with Michigan State University to provide research and education on urban forestry in cooperation with Southeastern High School and Hutchinson Elementary-Middle School, both located in the rejuvenation zone.
“We’ve already started tearing down some abandoned structures, and as part of our development agreement (with the city), we will be tearing down 50 vacant structures within the first two years of the project,” says Mike Score, president of Hantz Woodlands, an enterprise of Hantz Farms. The company will host a demolition demonstration on Friday at 3050 Belvidere as part of the effort.
Mayor Dave Bing, the Detroit City Council, various city departments, and Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr have signed off on the project. Along with hardwoods, Hantz Woodlands plans to harvest ornamental trees, sap for making maple syrup, edible mushrooms, and medicinal herbs including ginseng. In the future, Hantz Farms plans to work with companies that offer indoor growing systems to produce a variety of produce and other agricultural products. “We could get going on that at any time,” Score says.
During a recent driving tour of the district, Score showed off dozens of lots, among 800 parcels, the company is mowing and maintaining weekly. The company also continues to clear out garbage, scrub trees, and overgrown vegetation to improve public safety and aesthetics in the area. “We are paying cash for the land, we are paying property taxes, and the goal is to increase overall property values,” Score says.
If the company meets all of the requirements of the development agreement, it can purchase an additional 180 acres on the east side. “We can harvest the young trees and sell them to landscaping firms and other interested parties,” Score says. “Or we can wait 30 to 40 years and harvest the hardwood. We want to make this a model for urban revitalization around the world.”
In addition, the company has been drawing private interest. Johnson Controls, a large auto supplier with major facilities in Plymouth, wants to plant 250 trees in the area, while Carhartt, a large apparel company in Dearborn, recently helped clear five acres in the district.