DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — It’s a 38-acre campus with a dozen buildings, including two nearby abandoned schools, a playground and more than 100 residential lots, including dozens of dilapidated homes.
“This is really the last neighborhood on this side of the Lodge, then it’s all Henry Ford and Midtown,” said Architect and Developer Ron Castellano.
While looking out from the rooftop of historic Herman Kiefer Hospital, the vision of what could be comes into focus for Castellano.
We toured the main hospital building, which opened in 1928 to treat patients with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. The massive complex closed for good in 2013.
Castellano’s development group struck a deal with the city in 2015, but it took until 2018 to close on the $925,000 purchase. The pandemic delayed progress for a year, but Colliers International is now actively marketing the site as the Creative Commerce Campus Detroit.
“It’s the next train station-type of splash into the city of Detroit. You have the architecture, you have the history here, and then you have the ability to brand the campus for yourself,” said Gary Grochowski.
“Think of just electric vehicles or battery manufacturers or people who have similar businesses who are related who could make use of the collaboration that could potentially happen here,” said Grochowski from Collier’s Commercial Real Estate Services.
“The first company that comes in and takes that first step, it’ll just roll itself out, there’s no question,” said Castellano.
The complex allows for a variety of uses and development options ranging from 12,000 square feet in a single building to more than two million, with some additional construction.
“The hospital is created for social distancing, space, air, sunlight and it’s just what every company is looking for now,” said Castellano.
We also walked tree-lined West Philadelphia Street, which is just a couple of blocks from the Kiefer complex.
“The idea that we’re stabilizing and filling these homes back up with residents, it helps the campus, as well as the campus, will help the neighborhood,” said Castellano.
Robert Talley is one of the residents Castellano has put to work and they are already making a difference.
“This is the first time in a long time that we have our neighborhood back. It was gone because every other house was vacant,” said local resident Robert Talley.
But not everyone in the neighborhood is as enthusiastic as Talley.
Renee Gunn lives on Blaine and is a member of the project’s Neighborhood Advisory Council.
Originally very supportive, she has become more critical of the deal after Castellano was given the option to purchase houses and empty lots that she says were not available to residents.
“I think that’s the biggest problem with the whole thing. There’s a feeling of being shut out,” Gunn said. “And it’s the same system of doing the same thing it’s always done and it’s just sad and it leaves people pissed off.”
“I don’t have all the answers. I just know that this is not working, not only is it not working for people, it’s not working the way it was supposed to when the documents were signed. Don’t shoot the messenger,” added Gunn.
Castellano is facing an end of June deadline to complete the renovation of the first of the 15 homes he purchased from the Detroit Land Bank. He says he’ll meet the target date.
Back up on the roof overlooking the city, this transplanted New Yorker is bullish on the redevelopment project with an investment price tag that could exceed $140 million.
“I love this view because it’s like, this little village with these buildings and then you see houses and then you’re right in the city,” said Castellano. “I think that is the key to our project is to create jobs and what that will do for the neighborhood, the surrounding area and just the city at large.”