More than two hundred community leaders attended the Future of Woodward luncheon on Friday, September 11th, hosted by the Woodward Avenue Action Association.
Treated to a lunch by Rubbed and flanked by an authentic 1916 Model T outside the former Ford factory in Highland Park which birthed the assembly line, a group of DYP members sponsored by Quicken Loans joined others to hear a panel of Woodward business owners and a member of the recently created Regional Transit Authority discuss the current and future projects being designed to strengthen the iconic 21-mile corridor.
Many parts of Woodward are still as vibrant as ever, but accessibility, large vacancies and other problems continue to hamper its progress.
Brad Oleshansky hoped to capitalize on Detroit's classic car community, which he said is more than four times larger than any other city's. Wanting to see something beyond just the Dream Cruise a few days a year, he scouted Europe and learned about the concept of "car condos," which allow classic vehicles to be displayed year-round. His M-1 Concourse project at Woodward and South Boulevard in Pontiac will open next year on 87 acres which used to be a General Motors plant.
Robert Elmes is hoping some of his projects in Corktown and Highland Park can be a "fulcrum" out to northern Woodward attractions like Oleshansky's. Elmes is the founder of Galapagos Art Space, which made news last year when it announced it was moving from Brooklyn to Detroit, citing cost as a major factor. Elwes has bought about 600,000 square feet of space in nine buildings around the city and hopes to be a leader in its creative economy.
Part of the equation in getting people from one end of Woodward to the other is public transit. Curt Catallo, who among other restaurants is the owner of Vinsetta Garage at 12 Mile and Woodward, likened the famous road to the Mississippi River, which needs barges to move people up and down. He argued that better public transit would help mobilize the half-million people on Woodward 's banks and would help his restaurant solve the parking problems that have publicly plagued it.
Travis Gonyou is hoping his group can provide options like that. Gonyou is the Community Outreach & Communications Manager for the RTA, which was formed recently and will ask for public funding in 2016. He discussed some of the group's plans, including smart buses which can communicate via wi-fi to approaching stop lights.
Despite the obstacles, all of the panelists expressed hopes for a Woodward that can accommodate everyone. Zak Pashak moved from Calgary to Detroit, where he's set up Detroit Bikes, which manufactures 4,000 bikes a year and currently employs 25 people. He said it's easy to find the skilled labor he needs in the area. "People here want to see companies like ours succeed," he said.
Tom Keller is a professional writer born and raised in Metro Detroit. His online home is http://kellerinstinct.com.