555 gallery founders Carl Goines and Monte Martinez at the main entrance of what used to be the Detroit Police Third Precinct on Vernor east of I-75 in southwest Detroit on June 11. Behind them is a mural by the British graffiti artist Banksy that used to be in the former Packard plant. / Photos by JESSICA J. TREVINO/Detroit Free Press
Old jail cells at the former Detroit Police Third Precinct station can be rented out as mini studio spaces. The space is still under renovation.
Vacant buildings in Detroit usually stay vacant. But an innovative partnership between nonprofit and for-profit players has rescued one derelict building at a key location near-southwest Detroit.
The Detroit Police Department's former Third Precinct station on West Vernor just east of I-75 now houses the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios and the Detroit Farm & Garden company, a firm that caters to professional landscapers as well as community and family gardeners.
The artist studio and the lawn-and-garden firm came to share the building at the urging of Southwest Housing Solutions, a prominent nonprofit agency in southwest Detroit providing housing, counseling and other assistance to residents.
The agency bought the empty police station from the City of Detroit after the station closed in 2005 and has spent almost six years stitching together a deal to reopen it. The new tenants moved in earlier this year and have been operating there for several weeks.
Tim Thorland, executive director of Southwest Housing Solutions, said the agency paid the city $250,000 for the empty station but then had to raise $1.6 million to get the building ready for occupancy, including updates to the electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, a new roof, and more.
"It was somewhat experiential and haphazard, but we didn't necessarily mind that. Community development is sometimes like that," Thorland said last week.
Carl Goines and Monte Martinez, partners in the 555 art center, have already begun to sublease some of the available space to other artists. They even rent out the former cells in the drunk tank as mini-studio spaces, with the barred cell doors still in place.
The two artists met at the University of Michigan and have operated their 555 studio from a number of other rented locations. They're hoping the former precinct turns into their long-term base.
"We have a 10-year agreement that we're hoping will turn into more of a lifetime; that's what we're shooting for," Goines said.
Martinez said they plan to hold community events in the center, including community meetings and performance events, as well as renting out the space for weddings, birthdays and other private events.
"It's not your traditional community space," Goines added.
For Jeff Klein, a partner in Detroit Farm and Garden, which occupies the former garage space in the building, the old precinct station proved a boon. Klein and his partner, Andy Ray, had been working out of their homes for most of the past decade or so. Now, they finally have enough space to run a proper business.
Their biggest seller tends to be bulk topsoil, mulch and other landscaping supplies. But the store stocks a mix of offerings for any urban gardener, from chicken feed and gardening tools to antique lawn furniture.
"This is a great spot. This space is amazing. It really serves us well," Klein said this month. Despite the lengthy delay the past few years during the time it took for the space to be ready, Klein said, "It's worth the wait. We wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
The Mexicantown Welcome Center is steps away, as is the new and architecturally notable pedestrian bridge over I-75 to the Mexicantown restaurant district. The former precinct house plugs a gap that otherwise might drain energy out of the neighborhood.
For Thorland of Southwest Housing Solutions, the five years and $1.6 million invested in the project were well worth it.
"That's a lot of money, but it's not a completely unreasonable amount of money to make something happen," he said. "It doesn't take that much. A little sweat equity, a little imagination, and we can have some pretty cool places to be."