Creating Beauty Out of the Rubble
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Dreamtroit project takes the former Lincoln factory and reimagines it into a unique, eclectic space that inspires artistic creativity while encouraging recycling and sustainability thanks to the vision of one emerging downtown Detroit community.
The historic Lincoln Motor Company factory sits on 3.8 acres on the corner of Lincoln and Holden Streets in the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood of Detroit. It is surrounded by a hospital system, a top research university and a rich arts and culture community. Throughout the years, this area has remained a commercial corridor, while businesses have come and gone and only a few homes remain, yet Recycle Here!, the city of Detroit's only neighborhood recycling program, has served as an anchor since 2007, giving the neighborhood an identity once again.
When Recycle Here! first started, Detroit was the largest city in the U.S. without a recycling program. For the past 12 years, this citizen-sorted recycling center feeds the Green Living Science program, a nonprofit that teaches students in Detroit Public Schools the importance of creating a greener Detroit through hands-on recycling education.
Born out of the rubble, the Lincoln Street Art Park, also located on the property, is a public gathering space and a showplace for visual and performance art.
“The Lincoln Street side of the building wasn’t being utilized so we were finding a lot of people illegally dumping trash or old tires,” said Matthew Naimi, director of operations for Recycle Here! and founder of Green Living Science and Lincoln Street Art Park. “In 2011 we led a couple of Saturday clean-ups and invited the community to help us clean up the whole lot. We decided rather than put up a big fence, we opened it up and invited people to take ownership of the space in their community. We put up some murals and some sculptures and a community fire pit, held an event and then we stepped away from the property to see what would happen.”
People began to utilize it as a park – they cleaned it up, planted flowers and began adding their own art to it. “The community has created a culture of what we like to call ‘share your candy’. It has become a special place to people,” Naimi added. “It's like if you build it, they will come, but if they build it, they will stay.” The art park became the impetus and inspiration for the Dreamtroit project.
Naimi, along with Oren Goldenberg – owner of Cass Corridor Films – are the owners and developers of the proposed Dreamtroit project, which is one of the first major community investments being made within the neighborhood. The two men met six years ago when Goldenberg had come to film some of the projects on the property. About three years ago, they came to a crossroads where the building which was serving as a home for many eclectic operations didn't really have a focus and they needed to find a way to restore the 100-year-old building. They discovered the path forward was through housing.
“I’ve been in this neighborhood for 25 years and Oren has been a part of this project for a long time and what we've seen in Detroit especially and around the country is the challenge of providing affordable space, while trying to take care of artists and middle-income people,” said Naimi. “A lot of times development in the housing space pushes culture out. Our vision was to find a way of rather than being pushed out to the fringes, like typical gentrification models, to actually keep the culture in the community while fixing the building up and giving people a safe place to practice art and live affordably – to make their art, show their art, and bring the community into a public space that we've been able to create.”
Naimi and Goldenberg looked around and didn’t see any projects that successfully accomplished this goal. Not knowing how to turn their idea into a reality, this garbage man and filmmaker found organizations like Capital Impact Partners and IFF, who believed in the project and came alongside them to help them find additional lenders that could support their vision. They also gathered input from the local businesses and residents in the neighborhood as well as the city of Detroit to determine what would be beneficial to everyone.
Thanks to financial assistance from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the city of Detroit, the Dreamtroit project is one step closer to restoring the historic structure into a mixed-use, mixed-income development that includes a combination of residential apartments and commercial space that will house the existing Recycle Here! and Green Living Science programs, as well as a coffee shop, smoothie bar and event space along with an expansion of the art park. The new spaces will be open to artists, students, and middle-income workers from a variety of industries who desire to be a part of this culture.
The former Lincoln factory was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office in 2020. Listing in the National Register enables the use of historic preservation tax credits, a key funding component in many adaptive reuse projects.
“We want to preserve and grow what has really been created by the community. The building itself houses Recycle Here! and our educational program, plus there are some artist studios, a fabrication shop and a lot of empty space as well as the art park,” said Goldenberg. “The way people are housed there currently is they come to Matt and say they need space and he says yes. So really what has been built there has come directly from people's desire to see it happen and without it, it wouldn't be sustained. As developers, it hasn't really been about us creating a vision for development, it's about problem-solving, about how to maintain a community that has risen out of detroitus, meaning the rubble of Detroit.”
Dreamtroit’s founders envision that this project will help define the forward-moving nature of the design of the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood and will serve as a catalyst for future development along Lincoln and Holden Streets. This will not only involve housing but also activating the storefronts and some of the historic buildings that are along Holden Street.
“We are actively working with the city on a 24-hour economy initiative,” said Naimi. “We believe this will be a great place to live, work and play 24 hours a day. We see this as a very walkable neighborhood with bars and restaurants, 24-hour gyms, 24-hour dry cleaners, and other businesses along those lines that will help to breathe new life into the area. It has been shown that neighborhoods that are vibrant 24 hours a day are safer neighborhoods.”
Construction on the Dreamtroit project is estimated to be completed by Spring of 2022. For more information about how Michigan is supporting the growth of vibrant, diverse and sustainable communities through the use of MEDC’s community development tools and incentives, visit miplace.org.
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