Detroit Public Schools joined with the Detroit Works program and other civic leadership today to pitch the sale of key surplus school properties at an all-day conference aimed at builders, investors, and developers.
The goal: To promote the adaptive reuse of the 21 “priority” sites highlighted at today’s conference as well as the nearly 100 total surplus DPS buildings and sites that the district has for sale. Many of the sites shown today are linked to Detroit Works priority neighborhoods or are otherwise prominent.
“Reuse is so critically important,” DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts told the conference attended by more than 100 potential interested parties at Sacred Heart Seminary. “School buildings last longer than most businesses. If you can find other uses for these facilities, it’s a great help to the community where they are located.”
At the morning session, Tammy Deane, DPS real estate manager, told listeners that the district remained open to any good idea or serious purchase offers.
“We’re about getting deals done and getting them done quickly,” she told listeners. “We’re very motivated.”
In recent years, DPS has sold roughly $2 million to $4 million worth of surplus property each year. With the economy recovering, “We’re optimistic that we can sell even more product,” Roberts said.
More information about the 21 properties highlighted today can be found at the website www.datadrivendetroit.org/dpsreuse. The full list of DPS surplus properties can be obtained by emailing Deane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s not new that DPS is selling off vacant school buildings. What differed about the DPS presentation today was the collaboration with multiple other groups working to reinvent the city, including the Detroit Works program, the Michigan Association of Planning and others.
Karla Henderson, Mayor Dave Bing’s group executive for planning and facilities, told today’s gathering that repurposing empty school buildings represents a key part of revitalizing Detroit neighborhoods.
“We are so open and flexible at this time in thinking outside the box,” she said, citing the recent example of the nonprofit group Southwest Solutions adapting a former police precinct on West Vernor near I-75 as a community arts center as the type of adaptive reuse the city is willing to entertain.
Organizers took pains to show how investors, developers and other potential buyers can get the help they need to negotiate a deal. City Council is working on an adaptive reuse zoning ordinance that would make it easier to redevelop an old school building. And representatives of the city’s Detroit Works program and the City Planning Commission were on hand to put the potential sales in a larger context of city revitalization.
Around the nation, surplus school buildings have been remade as art centers, residential lofts, theaters, historical museums, and more.
Andrea Brown, executive director of the Michigan Planning Association, said old school buildings represent key assets in many urban neighborhoods. The buildings tend to be well-built, feature notable architecture, have long served as community anchors and often come with considerable acreage that could serve many purposes.
“There are a lot of great benefits to bringing these school buildings back onto the market and a lot of economic value, too,” Brown said.
Those attending had mostly positive reviews of the conference.
“I think the collaboration is historic, because up to now it’s just been demolition,” said architect Michael Poris, president of the Birmingham-based McIntosh Poris Associates.
Nancy Finegood, executive director of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, chided DPS for being too quick to demolish vacant school buildings.
“I think that there should be more consideration that these are historic buildings that have been standing for well over 100 years in many cases,” Finegood said.
Questions from the audience during the morning presentation also raised other concerns, among them that DPS does not give away sites for free, a potential roadblock for nonprofit groups that wish to reuse a building. Also, DPS cannot offer potential developers tax breaks and other incentives to put together a deal; for that, developers have to go to the city or state.
Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or email@example.com