Detroit Turned Blighted Properties into Urban Farming

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Recovery Park is providing a place for ex-offenders, recovering addicts and others with barriers to employment a chance to gain work experience.

Editor’s Note: As of February 2017, the project continues:


By Mary Velan

EfficientGov – Originally posted November 3, 2015

The city of Detroit is teaming up with RecoveryPark to transform a blighted 22-acre area on the city’s lower east side into a center of urban agriculture. The goal of the project is to provide a place for ex-offenders, recovering addicts and others with significant barriers to employment with an opportunity to gain valuable work experience.

The Project

The 60-acre project – which includes more than 35 acres (406 parcels) of city land – is designed to revitalized one of Detroit’s blighted neighborhoods by repurposing vacant land. The city is collaborating with RecoveryPark, a nonprofit organization working to create jobs for people who struggle to get hired.

“RecoveryPark isn’t just about transforming this land.  It’s about transforming lives,” Mayor Duggan said.  “The city of Detroit is proud to support the work Gary Wozniak and his team are doing to put this vacant land back to productive use and to help ex-offenders and others with barriers to employment rebuild their lives.”

The project is expected to employ 128 individuals within three years, 60 percent of who will be Detroit residents.  Consistent with its mission, most of RecoveryPark’s workers will be ex-offenders, veterans and recovering addicts.

The RecoveryPark project wants to leverage Detroit’s underutilized assets while developing a for-profit food business – RecoveryPark Farms – in the local community. To help the project take root and grow, the city is allocated $15 million to the initiative.

Veterans, returning citizens, challenged workers, those in recovery and other marginalized citizens struggle daily for the ability to care for themselves and their families.  Recovery Parkwill provide them the opportunity for a meaningful job, to earn a decent wage, own their own business and restore personal dignity, Wozniak said.

Under the $15 million project, which is expected to take five years to bring to fruition, RecoveryPark will replace blighted, vacant lots with dozens of massive greenhouses and hoop houses to grow produce.  The fruits and vegetables grown in these facilities will be sold to local restaurants, retailers and wholesalers. Among the local businesses that already purchase produce from RecoveryPark Farms, includes the restaurants Cuisine and Wright & Co. (Detroit), Bacco Ristorante (Southfield) and Streetside Seafood and The Stand (Birmingham).

The City will lease the land to RecoveryPark for $105 per acre per year.  In exchange, RecoveryPark must secure or demolish all vacant, blighted structures within its boundaries within the first year.   Here are the terms of the deal:

  • Within 120 days of possession, RecoveryPark is required to maintain the entirety of the leased footprint, mowing at least once every three weeks, and trimming trees. This remains continues for the entirety of the lease.
  • Within 12 months of a signed term sheet, RecoveryPark will re-locate its Waterford, Michigan operations, to the City of Detroit’s negotiated footprint.
  • Within 12 months of a signed term sheet 51% of employees will be Detroit based for the first 36 months. After 36 months, Detroit employment must increase to 60%.
  • Within the first 12 months of a signed term sheet, RecoveryPark must secure or demolish any blighted / vacant structure within the boundaries. All demolitions will be in accordance with the City of Detroit’s demolition policy. Recovery Park must also present a plan to the City of Detroit for future use of all structures.
  • Within 24 months of possession, RecoveryPark will operate at least 3 acres of greenhouses or hoop houses.
  • Within 36 months of possession, RecoveryPark will operate at least 6 acres of greenhouses or hoop houses.
  • Within 48 months of possession, RecoveryPark will operate at least 9 acres of greenhouses or hoop houses.
  • Right of Reverter – The City of Detroit has the right to take back purchased land without greenhouses or hoop-houses if RecoveryPark defaults or does not meet terms.

“Commercial agriculture in Detroit is an important addition to Detroit’s expanding business portfolio,” sad Gary Wozniak, RecoveryPark CEO. “Mayor Duggan’s economic development team has move boldly and swiftly to align city resources with our company’s expansion needs.”

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