Jefferson Chalmers Neighborhood in Detroit Eyes $640M in Development

The Jefferson Chalmer neighborhood on Detroit’s fast east side has detailed more than $640 million in new and renovated projects through a master plan process that includes new and restored house, retail additions, a community center, recreational offerings, and more.
Jefferson East Development rendering
The Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood on Detroit’s fast east side has detailed more than $640 million in new and renovated projects. / Photo courtesy of East Jefferson Development Corp.

The Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood on Detroit’s fast east side has detailed more than $640 million in new and renovated projects through a master plan process that includes new and restored house, retail additions, a community center, recreational offerings, and more.

Jefferson East Inc., a nonprofit organization, has a mission to grow Detroit’s east Jefferson corridor and its neighborhoods through facilitative leadership, collaborative partnerships, and innovative and impactful programming. To that end, East Jefferson Development Corp. was formed as a for-profit wholly-owned subsidiary of JEI that engages in real estate development activities to expand sources of revenue and capital, supporting JEI’s charitable activities.

The Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood is located adjacent to the City of Grosse Pointe Park, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River .The area is one of 20 neighborhoods that comprise Detroit’s District 4. The area is known for its waterfront parks and activities, canal-lined neighborhoods, and historic homes and corridors.

“The Jefferson-Chalmers Mainstreet Master Plan represents the vision of residents and stakeholders,” says Josh Elling, CEO of Jefferson East Inc. “It will serve as our North Star as we work with the community to continue to revitalize this important and historic commercial district.”

Phase One, which is ongoing, includes the buildout of Norma G’s restaurant, rehabilitation and occupancy of the Kresge Building, renovation and occupancy of the Marlborough Street Apartments, and a new tenant for the restaurant building at 14447 E Jefferson Ave. Completion of Phase 1 will result in the development of 23 new residential units, the creation of 60 permanent jobs, and will have cost an estimated $9.9 million to develop.

Phase Two includes three priority development sites – the Vanity Ballroom site (include the Schwinn Bike building rehabilitation), the Lakewood to Chalmers infill site, and Manistique and Jefferson infill site. Additionally, the phase consists of the rehabilitation of three traditional brick buildings on the corridor for retail and office uses. The preliminary timeline for starting of Phase Two is 2020. Phase 2 will bring 185 new dwelling units and 257,000 square feet of rentable space online, create 209 permanent jobs, and require $107.4 million in funding.

Phase Three includes the first to phases of the redevelopment of the City-owned Parcel 492 site for a planned development with a mix of uses. Additional Phase 3 projects include the Faith Church adaptive reuse and the Marlborough and Jefferson infill site. Preliminary timeline for starting of Phase 3 is 2022-2024. The phase will bring 309 new dwelling units and 374,000 rentable square feet online, create 48 permanent jobs, and require $129.8 million in funding.

The preliminary timeline for the starting of Phase Four is 2025-2030. This phase includes additional new construction infill and rehabilitation along the corridor. Phase 4 will bring an estimated 578 new dwelling units and 585,600 square feet of rentable space online, create more than 200 permanent jobs, and require $196.7 million in funding.

Preliminary timeline for starting of Phase Five is 2031-2037. The phase will primarily consist of new constriction for residential and mixed use with some rehab along the corridor. Phase 5 will bring 466 new dwelling units and 465,300 square feet of rentable space online, create more than 160 permanent jobs, and require $198.8 million in funding.

“Over the past year we have met with more than 650 community members to engage residents through workshops, studio hours, vision maps, and multiple presentations,” says Derric Scott, CEO of  East Jefferson Development Corp. “This collaborative process allowed us to ensure we were constantly receiving feedback from the community and listening to their vision for Jefferson-Chalmers.

“Our vision for the corridor is the community’s vision. After a year-long community process, we developed six guiding themes for the Jefferson-Chalmers Master Plan: sustainable development, a comfortable and safe environment, context sensitive development, a diverse mix of residential and commercial building types, walkable development, and development that supports local businesses and entrepreneurship.”

Together, JEI and the East Jefferson Development Corp. initiated the planning process for East Jefferson Ave with the goals of fostering socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable development; promoting alternative and multimodal modes of transportation; responding to the architectural language and urban context of the surrounding neighborhood; incorporating a diversity of building types; setting a standard for future sustainable and walkable developments; supporting local businesses and entrepreneurship; and establishing a vision to guide development for the next 20 years.

East Jefferson Avenue is one of the primary corridors connecting directly to downtown Detroit and the central business district. The overall use of the Jefferson-Chalmers Mainstreet Master Plan will be commercial in nature; however, a diversity of uses will be encouraged. Flexibility of uses is key for adaptation as markets change.

Other opportunities include:

Retail Opportunities

There is a desire for variety of retail development, including a grocery store (with a focus on access to fresh food), coffee shops, a book store, an arcade, a bike shop, and high quality resale or consignment shop. Comments from the planning process with the community also highlighted a desire for both sit-down and fast casual restaurants (not fast food) with an emphasis on providing locally attractive options as well as restaurants that can attract visitors.

Vanity Ballroom

The vacant Vanity Ballroom was the priority site most frequently mentioned, and groups identified specific uses beyond a ballroom for the future of the building. These ranged from developing additional entertainment uses to a health club, a gathering space for seniors, a dance class space, a place for Zumba classes, a balance exercise room, and a banquet hall.

Community Center

Many groups envisioned the development of a community and recreation center as a priority for the corridor. This was envisioned both as part of a larger development and as a standalone center. Desired amenities included a walking track, senior center, and a gym with a smoothie bar. The vacant school connected to the Faith Church building was often highlighted as a potential site for such a community center.

Housing Options

Participants recognized the importance of housing, with priority redevelopment sites identified for existing apartment buildings, tiny home developments, affordable housing for seniors, and repurposing abandoned homes.

Retain Existing Businesses

While many highlighted attraction of new retail and restaurants, like the popular Norma G’s, four groups emphasized retaining existing businesses – specifically the longstanding Riverfront Building Supply Hardware store. These groups indicated the importance of expanding and maintaining this key business that has long been a fixture in the community.

 Bike Lanes and Public Safety

Groups presented two views on bike lanes. Many identified the benefits, indicating a desire for more lanes, left-turn lanes for bikes, and further improvements to bike infrastructure. Other groups indicated a need for better enforcement. The learning curve with parking off the sidewalk between travel and bike lane was highlighted by one group, and another raised the viewpoint that the lanes can cause further congestion.

The top infrastructure improvement identified was the installation of additional crosswalks. Most groups mentioned crosswalks along with associated improvements such as lighting, yield signage, pedestrian signals, refuge islands, and street signal crossing buttons to help with pedestrian safety and access on the corridor.

Infrastructure and Utilities

Flooding is a key infrastructure concern with residents highlighting levee improvements and canal containment as needed projects. For improved safety, corridor lighting was also frequently mentioned.

Green Space

Groups showed a desire for green space including pocket parks, dog/pet parks, community gardens, and street trees as the corridor changes. Some also discussed urban farming as a desired component of greenspace improvements and economic development for the neighborhood.  Additional green space initiatives identified by the community included installing a soccer field and splash pad, beautifying the canal, and improving access to the canal (such as a kayak launch) via Fox Creek Park.

Historic Character

The historic architecture and character of the corridor were frequently highlighted as a community assets that should be better leveraged. Several strategies for strengthening corridor identity were discussed by residents and stakeholders including gateway signage, wayfinding, and historic markers. Other suggestions included employing local artists and developing community art projects to communicate the creativity found along the corridor and in the neighborhood.