The Story Behind The Midtown Park That Will Become The Site Of Apartments

April 29, 2013, 9:59 PM by  Bill McGraw

In a city that has become world famous for its abundant vacant land, an apartment building is scheduled to rise on the site of a children’s playground.

That’s what is happening at Stone Park, a 1.94-acre site at W. Forest and the Lodge Freeway, just south of Wayne State University, on the western edge of Midtown.

At first blush, destroying a park in a congested neighborhood to build an apartment building might seem right out of the paved-paradise-and-put-up-a-parking-lot narrative.

It’s not that simple. Stone Park is, at once, both forsaken and lovely. After the city discarded it, local residents and a non-profit group adopted part of the park, which flourishes. The other part is a dangerous eyesore. It’s a true Detroit story.


Last week, the city of Detroit approved a plan by Hughes Properties of Bingham Farms to develop the site. Ronald Hughes, the company’s CEO, said the building will contain market-rate apartments for young professionals in a building of between four and six stories.

The company purchased the site from the city of Detroit for about $350,000. With little money to maintain parks, the city had neglected Stone for years, then declared it surplus property and put it up or sale.

The apartment plan is part of the trend of money and growth in Midtown, Detroit’s old but rapdily gentrifying neighborhood north of downtown, where residential occupancy is at least 95 percent, according to a study released earlier this year.

“There is absolutely the demand for that kind of development,” Hughes said. "The park has been abandoned for years."

Stone Park might be bi-polar, but it is a welcome green space and one of the only parks in that section of Midtown.

When Curbed Detroit broke initial news of the plan April 9, the first person to comment asked, sarcastically, “Who needs a heavily used park that has been successfully adopted by the neighborhood?”

The park has gone through cycles of disrepair and refurbishing over the past couple of decades.

Today, the southern end contains a swimming pool that is filled with litter and stagnant storm water, and a graffiti-covered building that was once used by swimmers for changing. Both have been derelict for years.

The northern end has benches and playground equipment that have been renovated in recent months by the Greening of Detroit non-profit group, which also installed new signage, pruned the foliage and gave everything a fresh coat of paint. It looks inviting.

Despite the improvements, there's a sense that Stone is in the way of progress.

“When the pool was open years ago the park had lots of kids,” said Sue Mosey, the president of Midtown Detroit Inc., the non-profit that has played a key role in the neighborhood’s growth.

“I have been here over 25 years and can count on one hand the amount of kids I have seen in the little playground area.  A park on a freeway service drive is not real inviting.”

Mosey said she told Greening of Detroit the property was on the market when the group planned its renovation.

Trish Hubbell of Greening of Detroit confirmed that the group was aware the park might be sold. She said the Stone renovation was part of Greening’s program to work with local residents in adopting 10 Detroit parks.

“I used to swim in that pool,” Hubbell said. “Around 1984-85. There were a lot of kids there then.”

Hubbell added: “We’re a little disappointed, but we hope we can find another space the community can use.”

As Mosey noted, the park is fenced in by traffic. It is bounded on the west by the busy Lodge service drive, with the freeway itself buzzing 20 feet below grade. W. Forest Avenue is on the north. At the park’s northwest corner, a steady stream of WSU-bound cars makes the turnaround from the southbound Lodge’s Forest-Warren exit.

Hughes, the developer, described the site as a gateway to Midtown, and said the architecture will fit the neighborhood, which includes an old Baptist church across Fourth Street, to the east. No plans have been drawn up, he said, and construction is not scheduled to start for about 13 months.

Hughes also said one of his company’s goals in constructing the apartments is to provide a small park with playground equipment for use by neighborhood children.

“We said we would do that at public meetings,” he recalled.

The building will contain between 85 and 100 apartments, ranging from 600 to 800 square feet. About 80 percent of them will be one bedroom, with monthly rents under $1,000. Rent for a two-bedroom unit will be about $1,080.

“We’re going to be very competitive with the local market,” said Hughes, whose company recently opened the 14-story Landmark student apartments in Ann Arbor.

Mosey said Midtown Detroit Inc., which refurbished and maintains Peck Park, east of the Detroit Institute of Arts, at Brush and E. Kirby, is adopting Redmond Park, at Selden and Second, several blocks south of Stone Park. They plan to renovate it with input from nearby businesses and residents, Mosey said.

To see what the children and their parents thought about the idea of turning Stone Park into an apartment building, I dropped by the park five times in the past 10 days, including two visits at midday during good weather on weekends.

There were never any people there.

But the section with the swing sets and news signs sure looks nice.

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