DETROIT (AP) - A Detroit site where Indians once lived and died, the War of 1812 officially ended and the “arsenal of democracy” was activated is embarking on a plan to reclaim its past and rethink its future.
Historic Fort Wayne, military star-shaped fort in southwestern Detroit, recently received $265,000 from the Kresge Foundation for the project to redevelop the underused riverfront complex. The fort, on the National Register of Historic Places, also contains a Native American burial site dating back more than 1,000 years.
The project aims to secure tenants, including community and cultural organizations, to renovate and use about 30 military buildings. And it comes as the National Park Service advances what it’s calling an “Urban Agenda” and after deploying “urban fellows” to Detroit and other U.S. cities.
Detroit fellow David Goldstein said the plan is a critical step toward revitalizing the 175-year-old landmark overlooking Canada, where visitors can experience Detroit’s history, from “its indigenous roots to the present.”
“All of these things that are written on the city’s history are visible at the site,” said Goldstein, who has been a fellow in Detroit for nearly two years and is from the area.
The grounds are where tribal and U.S. government leaders in 1815 signed the Treaty of Spring Wells, which established peace between them but also spelled the “beginning of the end” for the native tribes, Goldstein said. During World War II, the fort was the site of integrated production by the military and auto manufacturers as ordered by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the speech in which he called for creating an “arsenal of democracy.”
Goldstein said some people visit the complex owned by the city of Detroit and see only neglect and disrepair. While work is necessary, Fort Wayne is by no means abandoned or forgotten: Roughly 150,000 visit annually and the grounds are regularly used for scouting trips, youth athletics and historic reenactments. Maintenance and repair efforts also are undertaken by the nonprofit Historic Fort Wayne Coalition.
The new plan, he said, creates a “concrete legal strategy” for leasing the properties, and determining a market value and bringing them up to code.
There have been numerous usage studies of the site, most recently one commissioned by the state: In 2015, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. hired New York City-based HR&A Advisors Inc. An earlier study found it would cost at least $58 million to restore the historic fort.
Goldstein said a draft plan from HR&A hasn’t been finalized. Nothing, he added, “can happen unless there is a mechanism for the city to activate the leasing programs.”
He said Detroit can draw inspiration from successful renovation efforts elsewhere, such as New York’s Fort Hamilton and San Francisco’s Fort Mason.
“There’s no reason why the city of Detroit can’t take advantage of the expertise and the strategies that have been deployed to revitalize these military surplus properties across the country,” he said.
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