Detroit freelancer Anna Clark does something few full-time local journalists have time or leeway to accomplish anymore: She revisits a year-old business development program for a reality check on its goals.
Her focus is Light Up Livernois, a retail incubator of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation's Revolve Detroit initiative.
Clark's report at Next City, a national urban affairs site of a Philadelphia nonprofit group, raises pointed questions about what Clark calls "cautious numbers" and "hazy details" from a grant program that says its goal is "to foster the evolution and vibrancy of Detroit’s neighborhood business districts."
Light Up Livernois, which began with a two-day splash 12 months ago and included fall sequels, generated coverage by the Free Press, Curbed Detroit, , MLive, our site and others. Now Clark, editor of a recently published collection titled The Detroit Anthology, looks at its tough-to-gauge impact.
The hope was that the two-day “Light Up Livernois” event would give the city a peek at what a vibrant avenue could look like, and inspire the community to take the serious steps in making it happen, beyond the scope of the initial [grants] contest.
So, nearly a year later, did it work?
It’s hard to tell. It is difficult to trace out the impact of “Light Up Livernois” because of the lack of public accountability and evaluation. . . .
The community is largely left to guess, or patch together information from rumors. The organization itself isn’t sharing this information in any clear or comprehensive way. The closest thing to revealing can be found in the Revolve website’s October 2013 blog post that boasts of thousands of visitors, and the transformation of 10 vacant storefronts and four public spaces at the September showcase. But there is no mention of how many permanent businesses actually came home to Livernois Avenue. There is no mention of what was attempted and did not work out: Certainly there are no lessons learned detailed here.
In terms of community feedback, the blog post quotes only a positive and un-linked remark by “one user on Twitter.” One of the new Livernois entrepreneurs is also quoted, but it is an un-cited copy of a quote that appeared in the Detroit Free Press a month earlier.
Clark summarizes these these results:
- Two of five entrepreneurs awarded $10,000 grants opened permanent shops.
- Two of eight given $2,000 grants started permanent stores after opening pop-ups. Four others opened for one night only -- a Sept. 20 promotional event.
- "A number of excellent murals were completed on the outside of Livernois Avenue buildings, but several art installations granted Revolve money were installed and displayed for this same 'Light Up Livernois' night, and are now gone."
The writer notes that other "grant and contest programs designed to catalyze business in cities ... [generally] haven’t evolved with transparency that lets the community see what happens after the hype." She concludes with this shot: "Nobody is served by work thinly done."
Meanwhile, Revolve keeps at it. Executives are screening proposals for two pop-up shops on Grand River Avenue in Grandmont Rosedale, a contest run with Charter One bank and the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation. The application period closed this week.
One oddity about Clark's commentary, although not a conventional news article, is the absence of an explanation from anyone at Revolve or its parent agency. "I did it as an opinion piece, though certainly the case warrants a reported piece (many of them, actually) that includes interviews," she explains in a publicly posted Twitter reply to my question.
Deadline Detroit also reached out to DEGC's media relations coordinator, Robert Rossbach, who replied late Tuesday. The Livernois retail initiative "was funded primarily from foundation sources, so it was not required to publish financial statements or other evaluation information under the rules that apply to Downtown Development Authority actions," he emails. "That said, the results are generally visible, as Clark could see."
Earlier at Deadline Detroit:
The Huge List of New Things Coming to Livernois Avenue, Aug. 14, 2013