New Bridge Presents Challenges, Opportunities In Delray

September 29, 2014

By Pat Batcheller

Where is the project going? Right in Delray. The slider above shows the current neighborhood with the projected layout over it.

"Nobody should put nothing this significant in somebody’s community and they don’t benefit from it."

Detroit resident Cedric Jones on the New International Trade Crossing's impact on Delray.

Plans to build a new bridge between the U.S. and Canada will affect people living in one of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods: Delray. As part of WDET's series this week on the status of the New International Trade Crossing, Morning Edition host and Senior News Editor Pat Batcheller went to Delray, where residents say they hope the project brings more than just additional traffic.

Meet one of the people whose life will change if the New International Trade Crossing gets built.

“Hello, my name is Cedric Jones. I live on Harrington. I am one of the residents that’s...impacted by the bridge, and I’m being asked to move when it’s built.”

That’s because Jones’s two-story home is in the way of plans to build a boulevard on the west side of what’s supposed to be a new customs and toll plaza for the bridge. His house and about 300 other buildings would be demolished. The owners would be compensated based on the cost to replace rather than sell their homes at fair market value. But the bridge won’t displace everyone in Delray. Neighborhood advocates say about 2,000 people will still live there after the crossing is completed. Their state representative, Rashida Tlaib (D), says many of her constituents couldn’t leave even if they wanted to.

“They can’t sell their homes. All this development happened around their homes decay—completely deteriorated their property values to the point where it’s impossible for them to move and find a comparable home to raise their families, to live the rest of their lives in.”

It’s for those Delray residents that the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition was formed. Simone Sagovac is the group’s program director. She says the coalition wants officials in the U.S. and Canada to make a commitment to Delray, and then keep those promises.

“Well, in essence, we want to make sure that there’s a quality of life here, that it’s a livable community, like other communities are. And now, what-you know, all that’s adding up is impact after impact of different industries that are around us.”

Industries such as the Great Lakes Steel factory on Zug Island and the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant. The smell of city and suburban sewage is common in Delray. So is the odor of diesel fuel from the trucks that roll through this part of Detroit situated between I-75 and Jefferson. Cleaner air is one improvement the Community Benefits Coalition wants for Delray. Employment is another. Simone Sagovac says both goals could be achieved if the bridge’s backers do what Los Angeles did when that city expanded its airport.

“Ten times bigger project. They secured benefits to not only provide job training and job access, but also they retrofitted the schools with windows that would reduce the noise pollution and the other pollution that was coming from being located near this airport expansion.”

Besides pollution, blight spreads all across Delray. Sagovac says the Community Benefits Coalition is seeking agreements to help residents fix up their homes and tear down abandoned buildings. Even the best-kept homes in the community may have a burned-out house on one side, and, on the other, three or four empty lots buried under tall grass, garbage, and old tires. Blight is the reason Debra Williams, who could afford to leave Delray, did.

“Down the street, the nearest neighbor was over a half a block down into the next block. So it was really not a safe environment for me.”

Debra Williams left her home on Green Street, but still has ties to Delray. Family ties. Her father owns one of the few stores left in the community, Green’s Variety Store on Solvay.

As we enter the store…Debra shows me around…and introduces me to her father, Albert Green. He doesn’t want to be interviewed, so she speaks on his behalf as a customer enters. She says her parents started the store in 1959 when Delray was still thriving.

“We had neighbors and competitors (customer enters) right on the next two corners, you know, just a few feet away. But there was enough business that everybody could eke out a living.”

At age 87, Albert Green still makes a living selling a wide array of goods, from cold drinks to clothing. A new bridge could bring new customers to his variety store. It could also bring new attention to Delray’s problems. Resident Cedric Jones says officials have ignored the community’s needs for decades.

“Nobody should put nothing this significant in somebody’s community and they don’t benefit from it. I don’t see how you can do that, that’s not right!”

Jones and the Community Benefits Coalition could have an ally in Governor Rick Snyder (R), the bridge’s biggest supporter on this side of the Detroit River. Snyder says the project should benefit Delray, and will address one problem right away-the truck traffic through the neighborhood.

“That is one of the major contributors to air pollution and other challenges and safety in the area. There’s a lot of big trucks going through that neighborhood on a regular basis. Building the bridge, hopefully we can do better routing, um, address those right up front.”

The governor says the state will work with the city to address Delray’s needs, something the City Council has already begun. On September 15, it voted to transfer about 300 bridge-related properties to the state for $1.4 million and reinvest half that money in Delray. That was an alternative to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr's proposal, which did not include a neighborhood development agreement. On September 26, the state emergency loan board approved Orr's original proposal. Council member Racquel Castaneda-Lopez, who introduced the alternative, says the council did not withdraw its proposal as other media have reported. She says the council stands “100 percent” behind a community benefits agreement to help Delray and wants a similar commitment from Mayor Mike Duggan. The mayor’s spokesman, John Roach, says Duggan will listen to any proposal the council offers. But State Representative Rashida Tlaib says the mayor needs to do more than just listen.

“He said every Detroit neighborhood has a future. But it seems to me in this conversation about a community benefits process (that) even 1.4-million dollars…which is a small amount of money…is not even being directed toward the impacted area.”

Tlaib also says the new bridge represents an opportunity to change the face of development in Detroit in a way that benefits the city and the people who have to live with the impact.

View Pat Batcheller's photo gallery on Flickr