Bold Plan Unveiled to Develop 20-Block Area around I-75 and Vernor

November 20th, 2010
Map of the "Mexicantown: Vernor/Bagley Vista" development area

Detroit, November 2010 —  An exciting plan is coming together to develop the Mexicantown and Mercado areas into a vibrant, multifaceted 20-block locale that would serve as a key destination spot in Detroit and which would enhance the ongoing revitalization of southwest Detroit.

The plan envisions innovative ways of linking the locale to Corktown and the West Riverfront and would turn neglected assets into unique opportunities for art, recreation, commercial development and green technologies.

The plan is called “Mexicantown: Vernor/Bagley Vista” or “Vista,” for short. Implementation of the plan would occur in phases, with much of it happening within the next five years, depending on community consensus, securing funding, and other factors.

The vision is truly community-based and includes input from more than 100 “stakeholders.” Southwest Housing Solutions is facilitating the Vista plan, working in tandem with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture.

Dan Loacano, a program manager at Southwest Housing, helped initiate the Vista planning process six months ago. DCDC, led by Dan Pitera, has been compiling the input from stakeholders into a matrix of possibilities that will serve as the basis for the development plan.

“The conversations around this initiative have been amazing,” Dan Loacano says. “What’s being envisioned is a very imaginative use of space and resources, mixing many different uses and activities. The plan will support the triple-bottom line of economic, ecological and social success.”

The outlines of the Vista plan were introduced at a special community meeting earlier this month at Mexicantown Mercado. More than 100 people attended.

The evolving vision for the 20-block area integrates many elements:

  • Restaurants, cafes, stores, innovative office space, and entrepreneurial incubator space
  • Artist studios, theaters, galleries, cultural centers, concert and performance spaces, and public art
  • Residential units
  • Expanded and attractive pedestrian walkways
  • Enhanced and innovative lighting
  • An outdoor market for local produce and goods
  • Green, open and recreational spaces
  • Bike lanes

The Vista plan focuses on four major development prospects: The Vernor Viaduct, the Mercado Cultural Square, the Welcoming Site, and the Neighborhood Activated Lot.

The Vernor Viaduct refers to the spacious underpass on Vernor Highway, behind the abandoned Michigan Central Depot, and below the wide train trestle. The Viaduct is the primary corridor in and out of Mexicantown and is notoriously dark and uninviting.

A group of artists called “100 Points of Light” is proposing to light the Viaduct using replicas of historic chandeliers that once graced the Depot. The lights would be powered by solar panels that are expected to generate surplus energy which could be sold back to the grid. In coming months, “100 Points of Light” will be cleaning the Viaduct and preparing it for the ambitious project.

The Mercado Cultural Square development would transform the plaza between the Mercado and the Bagley Pedestrian Bridge into an energetic entertainment and gathering space, featuring restaurants, local vendors and artisans, live music and family-friendly activities. The Mercado itself would serve as the centerpiece of this development, filled with appealing retail, entertainment, office and social spaces.

Southwest Solutions is looking into acquiring the Mercado, but the deal is complicated by the significant debt that the Mercado has incurred and which Southwest Solutions cannot absorb.

The Welcoming Site would spur development along Vernor and Bagley near the I-75 ramps. The Site would be particularly appealing to international travelers, offering a variety of ethnic restaurants and interesting stores.

“We want both streets [Vernor and Bagley] to be active commercially and with pedestrians, with the space in between them becoming connectors,” says Dan Pitera, in an interview with Model D for a story about the Vista plan.

The Neighborhood Activated Lot at 24th Street and Vernor would serve as an outdoor vendor and social area, with colorful murals on the ground plane.

The 20-block Vista plan builds upon many factors that make the locale conducive to further development. These include considerable infrastructure investments already made in area and its vicinity. The International Welcome Center and Mercado, situated at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, represent a $17 million investment in business and cultural development. The Bridge is the busiest international crossing point in North America, with more than 500,000 vehicles traversing the span each month. The new $230 million Gateway project connects 1-75, I- 96 and the Ambassador Bridge Plaza. Mexicantown already draws a million visitors yearly who come to its restaurants, shops and celebrations. The $5 million Bagley Pedestrian Bridge, which opened in May, provides easy access between the east and west sides of Mexicantown for the first time in 40 years.

West Vernor Avenue runs through the 20-block area and is regarded as “the city’s most viable commercial street,” according to a Detroit Free Press report. Moreover, development of the 20-block area would synergize with exciting developments in Corktown and along the riverfront.

Numerous other factors figure into why the 20-block area is primed for this new vision, including close, vital neighborhoods, and the growing community of entrepreneurs, activists and artists. Indeed, beyond the significant infrastructure investments, it is the vibrant community itself that is the driving force for the development initiative.

To learn more about the Vista plan, contact Dan Loacano at 313.297.1347 or email him.

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