After rocky start, streetscape project brings new life to Avenue of Fashion
Over the last decade, downtown Detroit has gone through a significant transformation. New businesses, construction, and beautification efforts have turned the 1.5 square miles into a destination spot for many.
But over the years, there’s been growing concerns from residents that Detroit neighborhoods don’t get the attention they deserve.
In 2017, the administration allocated $80 million in bond money to improve neighborhood commercial retail corridors called streetscapes. An important component of this initiative is the design process, which allows residents, through a series of community meetings, to voice their concerns and offer input on each project.
Livernois Avenue, between Margareta St. and 8 Mile Road, would be one of the first areas to receive a major facelift through the streetscape initiative. Unfortunately, the project, which would renovate the historic Avenue of Fashion, was met with a lot of negative attention as it got underway.
“Last year, during the peak of construction, there were lots of issues,” said Caitlin Malloy-Marcon, Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works. Because customers found it difficult to navigate the area and shop, many business owners were met with financial challenges. “Being a small business is hard; they already have small margins. Then when you have a giant construction project going on, that makes it even harder.”
While entrepreneurs were drowning in a sea of orange cones and dump trucks, not many people would think of setting up shop amid construction. Right?
Well, in 2015, Jamesha Lucas relocated to Detroit from St. Louis. After falling in love with the city, she decided to leave a successful career in the tech industry and start her own business. Bronzed N Glow is a modern beauty boutique specializing in products created by women and people of color.
In her defense, when Lucas decided to plant her business on the Avenue of Fashion, she wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the project. “When I found out they would pretty much be shutting down the whole street to expedite the process, I was pretty freaked out,” said Lucas.
As construction developed, Lucas was forced to postpone her opening date multiple times. Although disappointed, she reminded herself to stay positive. “There are a purpose and reason for everything,” she said.
The construction began in 2019 and was completed this summer. Improvements include a narrower road with fewer lanes, making it safer for pedestrians, wider sidewalks for businesses and their customers, bike lanes, new landscaping, and new lighting.
“You will see tons of cyclists, and walkers, and dog walkers, and stroller pushers out there,” said Malloy-Marcon. “The surrounding communities are getting a lot of the benefit from the work as well.”
Lucas has successfully opened Bronzed N Glow, and couldn’t be more pleased with the changes and support from the community. “I stand in the store and look out and I see the purpose and the reason. The street is beautiful, and the foot traffic has been amazing,” said Lucas.
The project may have come with its bumps and bruises, but the result is sure to have a positive impact on the Livernois area.
Malloy-Marcon’s passion is ensuring that infrastructure dollars go toward improving the lives of Detroiters and provide corridors where neighborhoods can thrive.
“To be able to listen to the community and build that into large scale projects, and then see people using them, makes getting yelled at during construction all worth it,” she said with a chuckle.