By: Branden Hunter
The city of Detroit plans to sell the vacant former Johnson Recreation Center on the city’s west side for $625,000 to the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, which plans to renovate and reactivate the facility. When completed, the center will be operated by the school, with neighborhood access guaranteed through a community benefits agreement negotiated by the city and residents. The sale of the property requires City Council approval and a proposal will be submitted to the body this week for consideration.
The plan for Johnson includes renovation of the 20,500 square foot building and improvements to 10.5 acres of open space around the center, including improvements to the playground at Joe Louis Park and the addition of three new competition-grade soccer and lacrosse fields. UofD Jesuit plans to use the facility for neighborhood programs, athletic programs, and other school uses.
Johnson Recreation Center closed in early 2006, and has sat empty ever since. When the planned improvements are complete, it will be the first time in over 13 years that the center will be accessible to the neighborhood. From 2006 to 2013, the city shut down 16 of its 27 recreation centers due to budget cuts.
“Gradually, we are bringing the city’s vacant recreation centers back to life to provide recreational opportunities in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “This partnership with U of D Jesuit to reopen the Johnson Recreation Center with new amenities and neighborhood access, is a win-win for everyone, thanks to a voluntary community benefits agreements negotiated with the residents.”
Residents, U of D Jesuit come together for community benefits
As part of the resident engagement around the project, residents and U of D Jesuit negotiated a set of community benefits for the project, to ensure the center will become a community asset again, and that the neighborhood will have access to the improved spaces when complete.
The community benefits agreement, which will go before City Council along with the purchase agreement, will establish an Advisory Committee comprised of seven members, including representatives from UofD Jesuit, the city and presidents of the local neighborhood associations. The community benefits agreement also commits U of D Jesuit to the following:
- maintain the Johnson Recreation Center and Joe Louis Park names
- coordinate a series of yearly community service projects with students and staff of UofD Jesuit
- collaborate with the Advisory Committee on community events that may be held at the center
- dedicate five UofD Jesuit scholarships annually to students in the community
- make the center available to Neighborhood Associations at a reduced rental cost at dates and times that don’t interfere with athletic and related school programs
- make the center available to the Neighborhood Associations for their Neighborhood Association meetings no more than monthly at no cost to the residents
- keep open lines of communications with the Neighborhood Associations
- implement summer camps and other activities at the center throughout the year that the community may participate in
“UofD Jesuit has been in the city of Detroit and committed to its residents since our founding in 1877,” said Theodore G. Munz, S.J., president of the school. “Every year our students, faculty, and staff engage in hundreds of hours of service projects that serve the people of this city. Likewise, our alumni actively contribute to the civic, economic, and cultural life of Detroit. The Community Benefits Agreement, if approved, will be another historic step in the school’s commitment to Detroit.”
The sale of Johnson Recreation Center will go before City Council this week and will be referred to committee for discussion. Pending the signing of the development agreement, the school expects to begin construction as early as this fall.
The sale to UofD Jesuit would represent the third reactivation of a once-closed Detroit recreation center through a public-private partnership since 2014. The city previously entered into similar partnerships to renovate and reopen the Lipke and Tindal centers, both of which operate privately but allow community access and programming. Last year, the city renovated and reopened the Kemeny Recreation Center, which had been vacant since 2013.