Downtown Wyandotte is thriving. Here's what's behind the boom.

There’s a reason Wyandotte’s central business district is often called the Downtown of Downriver. Located along the Detroit River on the eastern edge of the Wayne County city, it’s a bustling area with plenty to offer in terms of shopping, dining, and entertainment.

Just ask Bill Monaghan, 52, a longtime Wyandotte resident who frequently walks downtown with his faithful dog Buster.

“I’ve been here 15 years, and I’ve always loved it,” he says. “It’s got some life here. There are always people around.”

Monaghan, a Ford employee, is especially fond of the River’s Edge Gallery, a three-story art gallery on Biddle Avenue that focuses on exhibiting local and regional artists. Dylan Scott Atkinson, on the other hand, is a big fan of a shop called Black Magic. A hub for all things metaphysical, it features tarot readings, therapeutic massage, and an oxygen bar, as well as items like books, incense, and essential oils. Atkinson, a 39-year-old Wyandotte resident, is also full of praise for the city’s commercial district.

“It’s great,” he says. “It’s a really clean city. You don’t have a lot of crime. And the dining options aren’t bad at all. You get what you pay for.”

Surge of Development

Wyandotte’s commercial district has been a fixture of the Downriver region for decades. It’s been home to Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital since 1926 and has hosted the Street Art Fair, one of the largest outdoor art fairs in Michigan, since 1962. That said, over the last decade, the area has flourished, developing a reputation as a destination for new and expanding businesses.

“Downtown Wyandotte is experiencing a surge of development and excitement,” says Joseph Gruber, Executive Director of Wyandotte’s Downtown Development Authority. “Real estate developers, businesses, and entrepreneurs are investing tremendous amounts of money and capital into Downtown Wyandotte which is creating a great deal of activity and excitement for our dozens of bars, restaurants, retailers, and service providers.”

Downtown Wyandotte

Over the last few years, downtown Wyandotte has seen the opening of establishments like Bobcat Bonnie’s, an acclaimed gastropub with several locations in the Metro Detroit area; the Silver Ballroom arcade, which sits on Biddle Avenue next door to owner Jeremy Sladovnik’s Joe’s Hamburgers burger joint; and the recently opened Wyandotte Beer Company brewery. It’s also attracted service providers like a Community Choice Credit Union branch and shops like Mama Coo’s Boutique.

What’s more, property and occupancy rates have been rising as a whole for the city of roughly 25,000 residents. According to the DDA, it’s considered to be a desirable place to live for multiple generations, from boomers to millennials, and residency rates in the downtown area are estimated to be as high as 99 percent, according to the DDA.

The Vintage Market Home is a beautiful example of the new eclecticism Wyandotte is currently enjoying. Located in a 4,300-square foot facility on Sycamore Street, It’s a brick-and-mortar marketplace connected to a traveling market that makes stops in cities like Monroe, Ann Arbor, Wyandotte, Detroit, and Armada. Bright and spacious with tall wood ceilings, the market offers products from more than 50 Michigan small businesses. It features a women’s boutique space offering vintage clothing and accessories; children’s area with kid’s apparel, books, and other items; candle bar, and “Bubble House” dedicated to bath and body products, as well as Guest Vendor Cottage, which in the past has hosted vendors like Homestead Kitchen, Steve’s Gourmet and Kettle Corn of Michigan Inc.

Vintage Market

Angela Guzzardo and her business partner Rina Belanger originally opened their marketplace at a Sycamore Street location in April 2018. They soon grew too big for that facility and had to relocate down the street at space that was three times bigger next to Bobcat Bonnie’s.

“It's a small taste of what you can find at our traveling market,” says Belanger.

She’s thankful for the following The Vintage Market Home has attracted and attributes some of their success to the plentiful foot traffic that the downtown attracts.

“The shopping in Wyandotte is a big draw and brings a lot of people into the city,” she says. “You can walk the few blocks and shop at a lot of retail shops, stop into some fantastic restaurants for a great meal, stop at a craft bar for a fantastic cocktail. There are coffee shops, and bakeries, and ice cream shops, just so many things to see and do.“

Behind the Boom

Wyandotte s a city with deep historical roots. Named after The Wyandots, a group of Native Americans who once lived in the area, it grew out of a farming estate established by former Detroit mayor John Biddle. It was founded as a village in 1854 and officially incorporated as a city in 1867. In its early days, Wyandotte served as the home for Eureka Iron Works, a mill that produced high-quality steel, and later became the headquarters of the Michigan Alkali Company, which specialized in sodium-based products like soda ash, baking soda, and lye.

But the development of the city’s contemporary downtown is something Gruber, Wyandotte’s DDA Director, attributes to the urban renewal of the 1960s. At that time, the city had lost a number of historically significant structures that had defined its traditional downtown. Going forward, municipal leaders chose to make the redevelopment of the commercial district a priority.

“Since then, the City has always held high standards for the builders, developers, and residents who choose to reside or do business in Wyandotte. Everything is kept very well, which maintains a high standard across the board for our residential neighborhoods and commercial districts.”

Downtown Wyandotte

Beyond this, the city has been fortunate enough to have the support of two major employers, the BASF Chemical Corporation and the Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital, which together employ 3,500 people. Wyandotte’s municipal leadership has also made use of economic development tools, like the DDA’s Downtown Grant program and various state and local tax abatements and tax increment finance mechanisms to encourage beneficial downtown development. In addition to all, that Wyandotte also has a variety of already existing amenities including a waterfront, two downtown parks, municipal golf course, ice rink, museums, theaters, and an art center, not to mention events like an annual art fair, a beer festival, and a New Year's Eve ball drop.

“The hustle and bustle throughout Downtown Wyandotte have certainly picked up in tandem with the growing number and size of special events and the opening of new businesses,” says Gruber. “There are large, growing numbers of diverse, young, creative and talented men and women who are spending more and more time and money in our town.

Growing With Character

Jonathan Rusu owns R.P. McMurphy’s, a bar and restaurant established by his father with a business partner in 1979. He bought the business in 2011 and has done his best to maintain the tavern’s distinctive character. Throughout the years, R.P. McMurphy’s has maintained a steady and relatively diverse clientele, attributes to the establishment’s authentic saloon atmosphere, friendly service, and eclectic menu. Despite his tavern’s focus on tradition, Rusu embraces the recent changes the city’s downtown has experienced.

Jonathan Rusu

“Wyandotte has changed a lot over the last few years with new bars and restaurants popping up alongside new residential and commercial spaces being built in the older buildings,” he says. “It’s good to see some revitalization.”

While the city's business district has been enjoying sustained growth for at least a decade now, it looks like there's more in store.

A former post office is in the process of being redeveloped into a mixed-use retail and residential development called W Suites & Lofts. That project is expected to feature 33 condos, 16 apartments and 30,000 square feet of commercial space. Beyond that, the DDA is actively seeking developers for a project involving the vacant former city hall and new hotel and waterfront development, as well as improvements on public space and walking and biking infrastructure, are also in the works.

With all that in the works, it doesn’t appear the momentum downtown Wyandotte is currently enjoying will be slowing down any time soon.

"The future of Wyandotte is bright! And it’s one begin shaped by the incredible contributions and investments from a diverse group of seriously talented people," says Gruber. "With all the developments taking shape now, over the next several years we can expect sharp increases in the number of people living, working and shopping in Wyandotte, visiting our stores, festivals and events, enjoying our arts, culture, and recreation, all of which should attract even more talented folks into our community."

 

Read more articles by David Sands.

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