Eight months after Detroit’s historic Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center was scheduled to be demolished, Mayor Mike Duggan stood in front of it with boxing legend Joe Louis, Jr. to announce a $50 million restoration and redevelopment plan.
Not only will the project save the building, but will also include Detroit economic development plans to restore the historic neighborhood with 100-150 housing units, a restaurant and other commercial spaces supporting at least 500 new jobs.
Not to mention a kitchen incubator, a culinary arts training program focused on at-risk young women, space to house a bike-friendly non-profit organization, and community and meeting space.
The iconic building will retain its rich heritage with a new restaurant built on top, so that people have the chance to dine in Joe Louis’ former training facility atop what was at one time the Harlem Globetrotters’ basketball court floor.
A bar in another section of the building will likewise honor Leon Wheeler, who became Detroit’s first African American recreation worker in 1919 and managed the Central Community Center (now the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center) from the time it opened in 1929 until he retired in 1945.
A team of developers, all with deep roots in Detroit, will be working on separate aspects of the project.
Union Joints, LLC is undertaking the restoration of the 51,780-square-foot building and addition of the new restaurant and bar. Apart from the restaurant, they will also establish a kitchen incubator, catering space, culinary arts studio, and community and meeting space within the Recreation Center.
This $10 million project is expected to create 300 new jobs, which will include 120 new full-time jobs. Keeping in mind the historic nature of the building, the project is also expected to provide more Detroit economic development benefits than the usual construction or redevelopment projects.
Under the terms of the agreement, Union Joints LLC is required to ensure that a major part of the benefits from the project go to Detroiters and Detroit-based firms. This includes at least 30 percent of the construction cost to Detroit-based contractors, and hiring of Detroit businesses for at least 51 percent of the construction and rehab of the restaurant parcel.
At least 40 percent of the restaurant jobs must initially be filled with Detroiters, and the number must increase to 70 percent within four years. Members of non-profit Alternatives for Girls, which supports at-risk young women, will be given priority to join the culinary arts training program, which will give them a chance to gain employment at the restaurant after they complete their training.
The agreement also provides space in the building for housing the new headquarters of non-profit organization Slow Roll, Inc. Slow Roll provides bicycles to people for bike tours of Detroit.
Develoopers RHEAL Capital Management and Schostak Brothers are investing $37 million to develop the southern part of the property into a mixed-use project that will include 100-150 multi-family housing units and new commercial space.
This project is expected to create more than 200 new permanent jobs, at least 35 percent of which will be filled by Detroiters. At least 51 percent of the construction jobs will likewise go to Detroiters, and 30 percent of the cost of construction will go to Detroit-based contractors.
Mayor Duggan said in a release announcing the project that every opportunity they have, they plan to preserve buildings like the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center that have a deep personal history in the city, and do it in a way that provides real benefits to Detroit residents.