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Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center plans unveiled

"I love that (the building) is in this condition because it shows that it's been beat up, but it's not out."

Crain agreed the history is why the site is so appealing. Among other highlights, it's where Joe Louis once trained and the Harlem Globetrotters once played.

"When we first started talking about this project, my partner, Curt, looked at me and said, ‘KC, you can’t out-cool Brewster Wheeler. You can’t out-Detroit Brewster Wheeler.’ And that’s exactly what we want to do. We want to save Brewster Wheeler and restore it back to something that is not only going to be a place for the community but really pay attention to the history and provide an exceptional atmosphere for everybody."

The redevelopment would also include a kitchen incubator, culinary arts studio, catering space, community and meeting space and outdoor event space. 

The restaurant is expected to be built on the center's 1950s basketball court  -- and a boxing ring and gym also will be incorporated into the design.

Photo by Union Joints LLC A poster shows off some of the history of the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center, which will be redeveloped into multifamily housing, a restaurant and meeting space.

Union Joints and RHEAL, the designated developer of the multifamily units, have hired Detroit-based Jenkins Construction Inc. as the general contractor. Thirty percent of the construction contract costs are to be given to Detroit-based contractors.

The multifamily residential part of the project is expected to cost about $37 million; the restaurant and event space part of the project is expected to cost about $10 million. The green space part of the project is expected to cost about $3 million.

Participants in the Alternative for Girls program, which serves girls who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless in Detroit, will be given preference in a culinary arts training program.

The Detroit Chess Club will also have event space, and the development will also become the headquarters for Slow Roll Inc., a nonprofit weekly Monday night group bicycle ride.  

Rhea, a University of Detroit Jesuit High School graduate who from 2009-2014 was chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, last year opened a Detroit office for RHEAL, a New York City-based multifamily and mixed-use real estate investment management company.

Crain is also group publisher of Automotive News, Autoweek, Crain's Chicago Business, Plastics News, Rubber & Plastics News and Tire Business.

Joe Louis, Jr., Detroit City Council member Mary Sheffield, Mona Ross-Gardner, president of the Brush Park Community Development Corp. and developer representatives were on hand at the press conference at the site announcing the plans.

"I believe we found the right project, that this will allow us to create jobs, bring the tax base back to Detroit that will enable us to do great things," Louis, Jr. said. "Every great story has a come back, and this is Brewster Wheeler’s comeback ... Let this represent what we can do when we work together. Nobody thought this could be saved. Nobody thought there would be something to do with it."

Opened in 1929 as the Central Community Center, the Brewster Wheeler building is 52,000 square feet and sits adjacent to the 18 acres of property best known as the former home of the Brewster-Douglass housing projects, the demolition of which finished last summer after a two-year process.

The building was renamed the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center after the city’s first black recreation worker, Leon Wheeler, in 1969. He had managed the center for 16 years beginning in 1929. The center — at which Joe Louis frequently trained — closed in 2006 in a round of city budget cuts.

"It’s not hyperbole to say that we are standing at the epicenter of African-American life and culture in Detroit," Rhea said today. "Preserving a thriving, bustling urban community is key to any great city. Brewster is where the urban core of Detroit was born."

The project will celebrate the Brewster Wheeler heritage by naming aspects of the building after Wheeler and memorializing Louis at the building, which early last year had been slated for demolition until Duggan opted to seek development options for the site.

"Nowhere have we encountered a building so worthy of preservation as the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center," Catallo said. "The bones of this building have soul. The bones of this building were built to serve the city ... We want to restore that original purpose."

The developer selection was originally expected Oct. 15 following a request for proposal process that began in August.

Construction on the restaurant and event space is expected to begin this year, with the building opening in 2016. A ground-breaking ceremony is expected next year for the multifamily project, with construction wrapping up the following year.

About 100 people attended the press conference and announcement event this afternoon.

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