Mayor joins council, community and partners to celebrate grand opening of $7.9M community center at A.B. Ford Park
- New facility in Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood funded in part thanks to Penske Corporation’s generous Strategic Neighborhood Fund investment
- 8,600-square-foot Community Center at AB Ford Park Detroit’s first “resiliency hub,” providing residents a solar-powered resource during power outages
Today, Mayor Duggan joined city officials, community partners, residents, and the Penske Corporation to celebrate the grand opening of the new community center at A.B. Ford Park in Jefferson Chalmers along the Detroit east riverfront.
The new community center introduces the first-ever city-built Resiliency Hub with state-of-the-art features, including solar roof and energy battery storage, Green Stormwater Infrastructure, making it one of Detroit's most advanced community centers.
Additional building amenities include a living room/library area with fireplace, a multipurpose Kitchen Lab/Classroom, community meeting spaces and a large multipurpose recreation and event space with large windows overlooking the Detroit River and park, and a restroom residents can access from outdoors.
"Ever since the Lenox community center closed nearly a decade ago, residents in Jefferson Chalmers have been without a place of their own,” said Mayor Duggan. “Not only do residents here have a beautiful new recreation center, but it is also the most state-of-the-art center anywhere in our city. We deeply appreciate Roger Penske and Penske Corporations generous donation.”
Public-private partnerships serving Detroiters
This project was funded in part thanks to Penske Corporation’s generous donation to the Jefferson Chalmers area Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF.) In total, SNF funded $2.7 million towards this project and $4.5 million in City of Detroit bond funds.
The SNF was launched in 2017 by Mayor Duggan in partnership with Invest Detroit with a focus on leveraging investments in four keys areas: improving parks, streetscapes, commercial corridors, and single-family housing. Along the way, the plans are guided by residents’ input to give them a say in the future of their neighborhoods.
“The Strategic Neighborhood Fund is all about comprehensive community development” said Jermaine Ruffin, senior vice president of neighborhoods for Invest Detroit. “The Community Center at A.B. Ford Park investment is a key component of that strategy in Jefferson-Chalmers. Residents and visitors to Jefferson-Chalmers will benefit from having access to the high-quality public gathering space at A.B. Ford Park, and all the recreational opportunities the community center will provide.”
The fund was piloted with a $42 million investment in three initial neighborhood areas: Livernois/McNichols, Southwest/West Vernor and Islandview/Greater Villages. A year later, the SNF initiative was expanded to seven more areas, including Jefferson Chalmers, funded by an investment of $5 million each from seven corporations: American Axle, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Chemical Bank, Fifth Third, Flagstar Bank, Huntington, and Penske. Chemical and Huntington have since merged.
“Penske Corporation has proudly supported the City of Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund with our focus and efforts in the Jefferson-Chalmers community and we are so excited to help unveil the new reimagined Lenox Center,” said Bud Denker, President of Penske Corporation. “This world-class community center in AB Ford Park is so much more than a place where the residents of Jefferson Chalmers and can gather, learn and play. The new Lenox Center honors the legacy of Jefferson Chalmers while providing city residents the opportunity to enjoy new technology and an incredible event space that celebrates one of the most historic and vibrant neighborhoods in Detroit.”
The $669,000 solar portion of the community center at A.B. Ford was funded through the Clean Energy Group Resilient Power Technical Assistance Fund, Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), and the GM Climate Equity Fund.
"I am firm believer in creating spaces for community to gather, create and fellowship in effort to improve the quality of life for our residents,” Council President Mary Sheffield. “Today’s grand opening of this new state-of-the-art community center and public space which also is a model of sustainable development and will serve as the City’s first resiliency hub will provide all those things for this community."
Creating the Community Center at A.B. Ford
The 8,600-square-foot Community Center at A.B Ford replaces the Lenox Center that sat vacant for nearly a decade. Several passionate community groups had developed their vision for reopening the community center, which served as an inspiration during the design process. The park is well-loved and cared for by community members participating in volunteer clean-ups, plantings, programming, and more.
The City of Detroit General Services, Parks & Recreation Division engaged over 200 residents in the Jefferson Chalmers community around the construction and vision for the center’s development as part of the Strategic Neighborhood Fund implementation.
The project architects and developers originally planned to renovate the center, but after an extensive facility assessment and a new FEMA floodplain designation, it was determined that the existing building condition was did not meet the standards for renovation. So, plans pivoted to building a new community center at a high point in the site, allowing building out a space that genuinely met the community's needs today and in the future.
“I am delighted to have The Community Center at AB Ford Park come online as the first community space in District 4 in more than 15 years,” said Councilwoman Latisha Johnson, District 4. “The building is beautiful, functional, and environmentally friendly. I am most impressed by the planned programming, which will have something for everyone.”
“As a resident of District 4 myself, I’m so excited that we can provide my fellow residents with this beautiful and climate resilient community center,” said City of Detroit's Chief Operating Officer Brad Dick. “The Detroit Riverfront is such a treasure, and the city has just added another jewel.”
"The AB Ford Community Center, set to be completed by mid-October, exemplifies our commitment to creating vibrant and inclusive spaces in Detroit," said Executive Director of the Construction and Demolition Department LaJuan Counts, who oversaw the project. "Community centers should be a staple in our neighborhoods, serving as hubs for engagement, growth, and connection. They are the heart of a thriving community, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment for all."
The A.B. Ford resilience hub is the latest center part of an ongoing pilot network of hubs within Detroit as part of the Resilient Eastside Initiative. These hubs are equipped with solar power, battery backup, and essential infrastructure to assist Detroit residents during power outages, floods, heatwaves, and various climate-related emergencies. The Resilient Eastside Initiative is a cooperative project involving the Eastside Community Network (ECN), the City of Detroit, Brilliant Detroit, and the Chicago-based nonprofit Elevate.
AB Ford’s solar panels and battery storage ensure that the center will have power even when the grid goes down. With clean, renewable energy, resilience hubs can continue serving people in need. “This project is essential to Detroit’s climate strategy, and the City is excited to launch this resilience hub,” said Jack Akinlosotu, Director of the City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability. “Whether it's during disasters and outages, or normal times, community spaces with solar and storage can be lifelines - places to find resources and social connections."
The community center at A.B. Ford is now available to rent for parties and events to enjoy with friends and family.
In addition to the community center, A.B. Ford Park will be getting a redesign, funded with $2.13 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The redesign includes enhanced connectivity through the park with a new walkway system and promenade connecting the community center to the waterfront; an active zone including outdoor fitness equipment, a playground for 5- to 12-year-olds, a playground for 2- to 5-year-olds, picnic areas and fishing areas with riverfront seating and patio event space for the community center. Which, is slated to open in the fall of 2024.
For more information, on the A.B. Ford Park improvements, go to https://detroitmi.gov/departments/parks-recreation/ab-ford-lenox-center