Jefferson Chalmers residents would like to see children’s activities, classes for the neighborhood's large senior population, gardening programs, and nature studies at Alfred Brush Ford Park and Lenox Community Center.
About a dozen neighborhood residents met at the park on May 28 with members of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department as well as landscape designers to give their initial input on what they want to see in the park and Lenox Community Center.
The center was built by Kiwanis International as a facility where children and people with physical disabilities could exercise. The center closed in 2013 following declining conditions and lack of funding. One of the more picturesque parks in the city with its waterfront views of the Detroit River, A.B. Ford Park is the site of community events such as the Tour d'Eastside, which was held June 1, and is known as one of the best spots in the city for fishing. Many residents said they appreciate the fishermen, but hope that amenities can be included for them and to cut down on waste that they leave behind.
The park and center are slated for improvements after the announcement of a $5 million investment from Penske Corp., along with six other corporations, over five years to the city's two funds to help revitalize neighborhoods. On May 22 Penske and the city of Detroit announced it was joining forces with the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood as part of the city’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund and Affordable Housing Leverage Fund initiative. As part of the investment to restore, renovate, and reopen the vacant community center, a gymnasium will be added.
“This center is a great asset to the community in so many ways,” says Deborah James of the Friends of Jefferson Chalmers Riverfront Parks, a community organization that represents a collective voice for the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood to the City of Detroit's General Services Department and Parks & Recreation regarding Mariners, Lakewood East, A.B. Ford, and Maheras-Gentry parks. “Opening access to it is important," she says. There are only two access points to the park, at Lakewood and at Lenox, and the latter is closed because of the shuttered community center.
Michael Reed, an environmental scientist with the Detroit Zoological Society, leads nature walks throughout the park. He hopes for more entrances to the park, more walkable pathways, and opportunities to get kids excited about science.
The park has a rich history. For Kathy Richardson, a longtime community resident, the park holds a sacred space. It was near A.B. Ford Park that nearly 1,000 Fox Creek Indians were slaughtered in a brutal battle with several neighboring tribes. Richardson would like to see a historical marker documenting the event added to the park. The park was also a radar installation constructed in the 1950s for missiles stored underground on Belle Isle.
With an eye on the future of Jefferson Chalmers, residents also asked for chemical-free landscaping, solar power on the community center, and signage that uses positive reinforcement. Other concerns like safety, noise, and maintenance were expressed as well.
Maria Galarza of the Parks & Recreation Department and Project Manager Jeff Klein told residents that the improvements will be coming to their neighborhood with $3 million being spent to rehab and add an addition to Lenox Community Center and $1 million to revitalize the park grounds. The remaining funds will be held in case of overages or unforeseen budget needs.
Upgrades to the Lenox Community Center and park will begin in March 2020, with a grand opening planned for September 2020. This summer the park also will receive lighting improvements through city bond funding, and the Environmental Protection Agency will help support enhancing wildlife habitat.
The City of Detroit has been engaging residents for about a year to co-craft its framework plan for the neighborhood through community meetings and surveys. The enhancements to A.B. Ford Park and the Lenox Center came directly from input that residents provided during the Jefferson Chalmers Neighborhood Framework Plan process.
The Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood is a part of the mayor’s 10-neighborhood Strategic Neighborhood Plan. In April, Jefferson Chalmers wrapped up its initial planning phase of the Neighborhood Framework Plan, and will be implementing the final recommendations within the next 3-5 years. The final recommendations included: revive retail on East Jefferson Avenue; stabilize neighborhood housing; and improve walkability and sustainability. Housing developments and enhancements like an artscape have already brought visible change and improvement to the community.
At the meeting, Curtis Burns, a retired conservation officer, advocated for more park amenities and a regular maintenance schedule. “It is important to keep the park ... a park,” he said.