It’s been a long road back in Lincoln Park from April 2014 when a financial review committee appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder declared the city in a fiscal emergency and appointed an emergency manager from July 2014 to December 2015.
The downriver community was released from receivership in August 2017 after wiping out an operating deficit, building a fund balance of more than $3.4 million and making contributions to pension funds among other changes.
And there have been a lot of changes at city hall and in the community ever since.
Expansion of the Ford Motor Company Technical Training Center is the single biggest recent boost to the community’s rebirth and is helping the city build its budget through increased taxes.
The former Ford glass manufacturing plant on Outer Drive reopened as a training facility and is in the midst of a $14 million renovation. About 250 trainees from across the country will travel to the facility every five weeks or so. Those employees will stay at local hotels, dine in the area and generate other local commerce, according to Matt Coppler, Lincoln Park’s city manager.
Every $1 million in assessment value increase generates between $17,000 and $18,000 more in taxes annually, he adds.
“Coming out of receivership, the money we receive goes toward improving road and water sewer lines and enhancing services, including an increased number of police officers on staff to ensure residents have a safe environment,” Coppler says.
Challenges remain, especially when it comes to dwindling population rates and low-income levels in the city.
As of 2015, there were 36,720 Lincoln Park residents, down from 40,008 in 2000 and a big drop from the city’s heyday around 1960 when there were 53,933 residents.
The city’s median household income in 2016 was $41,090 annually, and the poverty rate was 19.9 percent, which is well above the national poverty rate of 13.5 percent based on U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 estimates.
Employment numbers, however, are looking up. Lincoln Park employment has been growing at a rate of 1.86 percent from 15,102 employees in 2014 to 15,383 employees in 2015.
“A big part of our success is showing change,” says Giles Tucker, Lincoln Park’s director of economic development and Downtown Development Authority. “It’s changing the mindset and focusing on some of the positive things we are doing to recover.”
Another sign the community is rebounding is the influx of Hispanic owned businesses opening at a record pace in the downtown area and “that has been encouraging,” explains Tucker.
In the last few years, the city has welcomed five taquerias and three authentic snack and Mexican-style ice cream type parlors.
The new businesses started popping up after the Hispanic and Latino population increased in the city. By 2015, those ethnic groups made up about 15 percent of Lincoln Park residents.
Los Arcos Market opened four years ago, after owners Mario Briones, his brother Arturo, Jr., and parents Martha and Arturo noticed the trend.
Martha Briones had a hair salon in southwest Detroit “and we were looking for something we could have for the whole family,” Mario Briones says. “Wherever people go is where businesses start going.”
Los Arcos Market features a grocery store, meat market, carry-out and casual dining.
They found “a great opportunity” in the building previously known as Chiarelli’s Market, an Italian grocery store that closed its doors in 2008 after more than 80 years in the city.
“What we do is the same kind of thing, but it’s Mexican, and we serve food,” Mario Briones says. “We have a mixture of Hispanic clients and a lot who have lived here a long time who still call it old Chiarelli’s.”
Longtime Lincoln Park business owners, like Sue and Sandy Ingesoulian, have seen a lot of changes in the 20 years since they bought Chesley’s Bar on Fort Street. It originally opened in 1984 and is a landmark of sorts.
Sue Ingesoulian says she sees waves of customers from all age groups.
"There are lots of regulars, people who come in once or twice a year and people who moved out of state who stop in,” Sue Ingesoulian says.
A sign out front boasts Chesley’s was voted best neighborhood bar in the suburbs by Hour Magazine in June 2017.
“We get the kids in their twenties, people in their sixties and everyone in between,” she says, adding that downriver residents who have moved to other communities have a strong connection to their “home in downriver.”
She notices a lot more empty storefronts in the city than there were when they took over the business two decades ago.
“In the working class neighborhoods it’s harder for the people to make it,” she says, but adds that watching “young families moving in” offers hope.
One storefront at a time
Tucker said the city is pushing hard to reduce the number of vacant storefronts.
“This year we have had a lot of new businesses coming to the city,” he says. “We went from not a lot going on to very, very busy.”
There isn’t one reason behind the surge in businesses landing in Lincoln Park, he adds, but a lot has to do with the economy rebounding.
Tucker promotes the downtown area, sending out newsletters encouraging businesses to get involved in grant programs, like the 50-50 match for façade improvements, which matches up to $10,000.
Another piece in the economic rebound involves a lot of new midsize developments, like the Sonic Drive-In coming to Dix Highway and Emmons sometime in 2018. A few others are in the planning stages, Tucker says. And the historic rehab of the landmark downtown movie theater-turned-adult theater into Lincoln Park Lofts has created new, high-quality, affordable housing in the city.
Lincoln Park has also turned to the Michigan Economic Redevelopment program encouraging communities to adopt innovative redevelopment strategies and make them more attractive to investors.
“We’re starting to see things come together. What happened in Lincoln Park can be found in any other inner ring suburb. There are commercial vacancies, but I wouldn’t call that extraordinary,” Tucker says. “We see a lot of positive things. I think our community has turned the corner.”
City Dive is a series dedicated to exploring what's happening in the cities and towns across metro Detroit, We're diving deep to find out what's next for the places we call home. Read more stories here.