Midwest Memo: Detroit Has A Deal, Chicago Has Crippling Debt And Ohio Has Bulldozers

Detroit’s deal Last night, the Detroit City Council voted to approve a consent agreement with the state to avoid takeover by an emergency manager. That means, as long as the governor signs the deal as expected and the courts don’t strike the deal down, Detroit finally has the first step in a plan to avoid bankruptcy. Partner station Michigan Radio reports on what it all means.

Chicago’s debt problem The Chicago Sun-Times went looking for reasons why Chicago would turn to private partnerships to fund its new multi-billion dollar plan to rebuild infrastructure. One major reason: the city’s staggering debt. Chicago can’t take out any more bonds to pay for improvements because the city spends almost 23 percent of its annual budget paying off the $7.3 billion in debt it already has.

Illinois’ turn Illinois is getting into the fracking game. Crain’s Chicago Business says the state could see a natural gas-drilling “boomlet” as companies explore southern Illinois for possible drilling.

Bulldozing blitz Partner station WCPN Ideastream had a story on NPR’s Morning Edition today that looks at the effort to tear down vacant houses in Ohio. The state set aside $75 million from its share of the $25 billion nationwide mortgage fraud settlement to pay for demolitions.

No more coal ash The Ludington Daily News reports the city’s historic car ferry has received a grant to convert its fuel source. Without the grant, the coal powered ferry would have been forced to shut down by the EPA. The historic vessel dumps about 500 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan every year.

#goodnewsforDetroit Twitter says it will open a new office in Detroit. Michigan Radio’s Jennifer Guerra reported the news in tweet form. You have to hear it.

Finding New Uses For The Midwest’s Vacant Churches

On Monday, there will be word on the new members of a growing collection across the Midwest: vacant churches. The Archdiocese of Detroit is expected to officially announce which parishes will close or be combined with others across a six-county region, and the Detroit News says that could result in 39 fewer churches.

Hobbs & Black Architects are in this Ann Arbor, Mich. church

Vacant churches dot our cities — not just Detroit, in but Cleveland and Chicago, as well. But, like other empty places that we’ve reported on in the Midwest, some are being put to new uses.

One longstanding example is in Ann Arbor, where Hobbs & Black Architects have their offices in the former First Unitarian Church. The imposing stone building at 100 N. State Street was built in 1885, and was used as a church until 1975. Hobbs & Black bought it in 1985, and gave it a painstaking restoration, including a soaring Tiffany glass window.

We’d like to know about other churches in our region that are being put to new use. Please let us know about the ones in your city. And if there are churches sitting vacant, we’d like to hear about those, too.

Tell us how church buildings are coming back to life.

With Twin Cities Assembly Plant Now Closed, St. Paul Ponders Future Of Shuttered Site

Employees crowded around, took photos and cheered as the last Ford Ranger pickup truck rolled off the assembly line Friday in St. Paul,  Minn.

At least one worker was bewildered by the reaction.

Photo by Slobodan Stojkovic via Flickr.

“I could not understand why there were cheering for the last vehicle,” Mike Montie, who worked at the Twin Cities Assembly Plant for 28 years, told the Associated Press. “You cheer for the first one, not the last one. I was like, ‘What the hell?’ I didn’t want it to end, you know?”

He was one of 800 employees who lost their jobs when the Twin Cities Assembly Plant closed Friday. The plant, located along the banks of the Mississippi River, has produced more than 6 million cars during an 86-year history. But sales of the Ranger have slackened since the 1990s, and Ford decided to concentrate on larger, more profitable pickups.

A multimillion dollar cleanup of the 122-acre site will begin early next year.

Local officials are hopeful the site can be repurposed. According to the St. Paul Star Tribune, locals are considering a lot of possibilities, including a green manufacturing complex, a densely populated transit village, a park, an office campus and a middle-class neighborhood.

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Report: Developers Trend Toward Repurposing Shuttered Auto Plants

Of the 263 automotive plants closed across the country over the past three decades, nearly 49 percent have been repurposed, according to a Labor Department study released Thursday.

And the pace of redeveloping them has accelerated.

The New York Times reported today that, despite the fragile economy, developers have bought as many closed plants in the past three years – 32– as they did in the previous 26 years. Lower property values and a glut of plants on the market have contributed to the trend.

The repurposed plants have welcomed traditional manufacturers, and some of have been turned into housing developments, offices and research centers which has helped affected communities rediscover needed tax revenues, according to the study, which was authored by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research.

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What To Do About Empty School Buildings?

Changing Gears recently reported on Empty Places throughout our region — buildings, vacant lots, corporate campuses — and what people were doing to deal with these spaces.

Lee Bey, a blogger at our partner station WBEZ, posed a question about what happens to Chicago Public School buildings when they’re slated to be closed, especially when those buildings are architectural gems. (Bey was featured in my empty places story about a former meatpacking plant on the edge of the old Stockyards.)

Bey is speaking in particular about Walter Dyett High School on W. 51st Street. and Crane Technical Prep High School, at Jackson and Oakley on the city’s near West side, which Bey describes as an “exceptional piece of Greek Revival architecture that’s in fine physical condition.”

But he’s even more effusive about Dyett, designed by Mies van der Rohe protege David Haid. You may know Haid for the auto pavilion he designed that was featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – the one where Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari was parked.

Bey’s full post is here.  And for your viewing pleasure, I present you that infamous scene from the movie:

 

Empty Places, Many Solutions: Our Series About Transformations and Challenges

All across the Midwest, cities and suburbs are tackling the problem of Empty Places. Throughout November, Changing Gears took a look at some of the challenges and solutions involved in transforming property from the past.

In Flint, Mich., Kate Davidson found there may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1.  It’s one of the factories that was occupied by sit-down strikers in the 1930s.  The plant made tanks during World War II.  It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center.  But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars.  They sell very expensive prescription drugs.

In suburban Chicago, Tony Arnold reported that  as companies adjust to economic conditions, many in the region have been re-evaluating the basics – including where they’re located. Cities and states bend over backwards to create jobs, and they’re left with some big challenges when a company decides it no longer wants its headquarters there. Continue reading “Empty Places, Many Solutions: Our Series About Transformations and Challenges”

EMPTY PLACES: New Life for Historic GM Complex in Flint

Workers at Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy prepare custom prescriptions

FLINT — There may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint, Michigan.  It was one of the factories sit-down strikers occupied in the 1930s.  The plant made tanks during World War II.  It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center.  But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars.  They sell very expensive prescription drugs. [display_podcast]

There’s one group of experts who can always tell you the history and significance of an old factory.  They’re the guys at the bar across the street.

Dan Wright is still a regular at The Caboose Lounge.  He worked at Fisher Body No. 1 briefly in the 1970s.

“The bars were always full and restaurants were always full and stores were always full,” he says.  “And all these stores, bars and restaurants you go to now, there’s nobody there.  And it’s sad that Flint died the way it did.”
Continue reading “EMPTY PLACES: New Life for Historic GM Complex in Flint”

Three Looks at The Midwest Economy, From Changing Gears

Changing Gears is all about the reinvention of the Industrial Midwest. As you’re relaxing over the Thanksgiving holiday, check out three big topics that we looked at this fall. 

EMPTY PLACES: From factories to city blocks, our region has thousands of empty places, but people are coming up with ideas to fill them. Kate Davidson explored blotting — neighbors taking over vacant lots next door to spruce up the neighborhood. Niala Boodhoo looked a former meatpacking plant that’s now an indoor farm. Meanwhile, contributor Dustin Dwyer tried to measure the social and economic cost of emptiness.

Memorabilia from the now defunct AutoWorld in Flint

MAGIC BULLETS: Communities across the Midwest are search for Magic Bullets — big ideas that can rescue a town or an industry. Davidson offered a look back at magic bullets over the years. Some people think batteries could create thousands of jobs, but Dwyer found there’s skepticism. Many places would like to copy Cleveland’s success in health care, which Bobkoff says could be tough. Boodhoo explored the contribution small business can make to the economy (answer: it’s small).

MANUFACTURING: Movies and TV have painted a bleak picture of factory life. We found just the opposite. Think there are no jobs in manufacturing? There are plenty, for temporary workers, Davidson found. What are they talking about, when they talk about advanced manufacturing? Bobkoff explained. He also talked to Ron Bloom, the man who led the auto industry bailout. How do ideas become reality? Boodhoo profiled Battelle, an influential but little-known Ohio company.

 

What Do You Do With An Empty Corporate Campus?

All this month, our Changing Gears series has been looking at empty places across the Midwest – from foreclosed homes to abandoned factories. But as companies adjust to economic conditions, many in the region have been re-evaluating the basics – including where they’re located.

Cities and states bend over backwards to create jobs, and they’re left with some big challenges when a company decides it no longer wants to be there. Tony Arnold of WBEZ in Chicago looked at the issue.

There’s a hot new trend among companies around the Midwest – threatening to leave. Several companies, especially around Chicago, have been asking big picture questions as they take a look at their bottom lines.

One is the food maker Sara Lee, which is going through a major transition as it prepares to split into two companies. One would be focused on meats, such as sausages and hot dogs. The other one would focus on beverages.

Company spokesman Jon Harris says the company believes a downtown location “would provide our new North American meats company with an environment that will be energetic, that will foster breakthrough thinking, create revolutionary products, offer fresh perspectives and really own the market.”

But that means moving from Sara Lee’s headquarters and test kitchens, which are currently based in Chicago’s western suburbs, in a town called Downers Grove.

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EMPTY PLACES: It’s Not Squatting … It’s Blotting

"Blotters" are turning Detroit's empty spaces into family compounds.

DETROIT — Our Changing Gears project is looking at the challenges of the region’s empty places this month.  For many people, the most threatening emptiness isn’t a shuttered factory.  It’s the abandoned property next door.  But in Detroit, some residents are using that emptiness to quietly reshape their neighborhoods.  They’re annexing vacant lots around them, buying them when they can or just putting up a fence.

They’re not squatters … they’re blotters.[display_podcast] Continue reading “EMPTY PLACES: It’s Not Squatting … It’s Blotting”