DETROIT — Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan cued the long-awaited start of demolition of the massive Frederick Douglass Homes, once known as the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects. Bulldozers began knocking down the massive complex’s low-rise row houses this morning. Since their abandonment in 2008, the Frederick Douglass Homes had been a symbol of blight and crime. As a result of the working partnership between local, state and federal agencies, HUD awarded $6.5 million in emergency capital funds for the first stage of the demolition of the Douglass homes.
“This site has long been an eyesore and a breeding ground for crime in our city. Today, we are marking the beginning of the property’s demolition, thanks to funding from HUD and the work of the Detroit Housing Commission,” Mayor Bing said. “The knocking down of this former housing complex represents a major accomplishment in our four-year effort to eliminate neighborhood blight by demolishing a total of 10,000 dangerous, vacant structures by year’s end.”
“The demolition of the Frederick Douglass Homes represents another important and positive step in Detroit’s journey toward revitalization,” said Secretary Donovan. “We are honored to be a part of helping to write a new chapter for this community. The people of Detroit are determined and resilient – and the Obama Administration is committed to supporting local leaders as they rebuild.”
The 18.5-acre site is located near I-75, Mack Avenue and Beaubien — adjacent to Brush Park and Eastern Market. Closed since 2008, the Frederick Douglass Homes were the largest residential housing project owned by the city of Detroit. The complex consists of four 15-story high-rise apartment buildings, two 6-story mid-rise apartment buildings, and 96 low-rise row houses.
“Phase one of the excavation begins today and it involves taking down the low-rise units, which should be completed this year,” said Detroit Housing Commission Executive Director Kelley Lyons. “Meanwhile, we are conducting abatement work on the mid-rise and high-rise buildings. Demolition on those units is expected to begin this year, and continue into the first quarter of 2014.”
The demolition of the Frederick Douglass Homes paves the way for the future redevelopment of this prime property that connects downtown and midtown Detroit. However, the complex will remain a part of Detroit’s rich history as the nation’s first federally-funded public housing development for African-Americans when it opened in 1935. Additionally, the Frederick Douglass Housing Project was the childhood home of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard of The Supremes; comedienne-actress Lily Tomlin; and boxer Joe Louis, who perfected his boxing skills at the nearby Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center.
In 1994, the Detroit Housing Commission re-built 250 townhomes at the corner of I-75 and Mack across the street from the old complex. These units are known as the Brewster Homes and are not part of the demolition plans. The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center also will not be demolished, as the City looks for ways to re-open it as a recreational facility for youth and seniors.