Ford commits $10M to address needs in southwest Detroit and activate Mercado as community resource

December 19th, 2012
Presentation of the check from Ford at the press conference at the Mercado. (left to right) Hector Hernandez executive director of the Housing Opportunity Center at Southwest Solutions,; Mark Fields, chief operating officer at Ford Motor Company: Mayor Dave Bing: DeWayne Wells, president of Gleaners Community Food Bank; and Jim Vella, president of Ford Motor Company Fund.

The Ford Motor Company and Ford Fund are committing $10M to amplify community partnerships that help address needs in southwest Detroit, including better food choices for those in need, job training, youth employment and recreation, cultural development, neighborhood beautification, public safety, and more.

The announcement was made at a press conference held at the Mexicantown Mercado on Tuesday, December 18, 2012. Leaders from Ford, the Mayor’ office, and nonprofit organizations, as well as community residents attended the event, which received significant press coverage.

Ford calls this major investment initiative “Operation Brighter Future – Detroit.” Its centerpiece involves activating the Mercado as a community space in which multiple nonprofits will collaborate to provide an array of human services to help families and individuals improve their quality of life. The collaborative is led by Gleaners Food Bank, which will operate a client choice food service center that allows clients to select items in a dignified setting.

Ford is providing funding to both operate the entire facility and help nonprofits provide services there for at least four years. This initiative at the Mercado will be formally known as the “Ford Resource and Engagement Center at the Mexicantown Mercado.”

“This is a good day for Detroit,” said Mark Fields, chief operating officer at Ford Motor Company, at the press conference. “The Ford Resource and Engagement Center at the Mexicantown Mercado, literally, will be a gathering place to make the community stronger.”

The Mercado opened in 2007. Along with the Mexicantown Welcome Center, it was part of a $17M development near the Ambassador Bridge and Gateway Project. The intent of the Mercado space was to incubate businesses and offer cultural programming. However, the building has been mostly vacant and unused because of many factors, including the recession, construction delays on the project, insufficient funding to realize the intended mission, delays in the Gateway Project caused by the Bridge Company, and, eventually, the lack of community consensus. As the Mercado stood vacant, debt accumulated. Earlier this year, the City made a $4.2M payment to HUD on a Section 108 Loan payment that had come due.

The Mercado will continue to be owned and governed by Mexicantown Community Development Corporation (MCDC). Speaking at the press conference, Hector Hernandez, chairman emeritus of the MCDC board, emphasized that the Ford investment will enable the Mercado to fulfill its purpose as a community resource.

“Ford, the city and MCDC are all committed to providing the highest-quality services to the southwest Detroit community within the Mercado, and we envision exciting cultural programming on the soon-to-be enhanced plaza space, complete with a new water fountain feature to extend this extraordinary exterior community plaza,” said Hector, who is also the executive director of the Housing Opportunity Center at Southwest Solutions.

In addition to the resource center, Ford announced several other initiatives as part of the $10M investment:

  • Ford will “adopt” the Patton Recreation Center in southwest Detroit and fund a variety of youth programming, including arts, gymnastics, lacrosse, karate and swimming.
  • Ford will fund a summer camp program at Patton to serve 80 to 90 youth and will also provide a limited number of scholarships for youth to attend this “Brighter Future Summer Camp.”
  • Ford will help the fund the Detroit Summer Youth Employment program that provides training and work experience for youth ages 14 to 21.
  • Ford will support projects by The Greening of Detroit to turn vacant areas into parks.
  • Ford will donate two F-Series chassis to the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, which will then be converted into new ambulances for the city of Detroit.

At the press conference, Mayor Dave Bing emphasized the importance of the donated ambulances to help improve EMS response time and pubic safety in the City.

“Because of the City’s financial difficulties, we have not been able to make an investment in new EMS vehicles,” the Mayor said. “This investment by Ford is unprecedented.”

The Mayor also stressed how the Ford investment in southwest Detroit aligns with the Detroit Works project. Southwest Detroit is considered one of the most vibrant and viable neighborhoods in the city and was chosen as one of the “demonstration sites” for Detroit Works. The Ford investment is a significant contribution to the ongoing revitalization and development of the community.

“We are deeply appreciative of all the work that Ford, MCDC, and the City have done to make the Mercado into a valuable community resource, and we look forward to working with them and the many diverse partners in southwest Detroit,” said John Van Camp, president of Southwest Solutions. “The Mercado is certainly a beautiful building at a pivotal location, and seeing it active will have an important positive impact, both economically and psychologically, on the community.”

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