Our plan for the Phoenix Center has been developed over time (5 years) with great social entrepreneurial risk taking to preserve the structure in the face of demolition and to prevent gentrifying forces from making it and our downtown as a whole, an exclusive place that is not open and inclusive to our community’s visions and ideas for the future.
Our community hasn’t had a role in its downtown for several decades due to the worst forms of urban planning and the ugliest elements of American society and culture. Segregation, siloed organizations, top down federal policies that drove redlining, then “reverse redlining” leading to the foreclosure crisis and local "sprawl oriented" governance at the county level, on top of bigger picture forces of depopulation and deindustrialization.
Yet we find ourselves blessed with infrastructure cities around the country are raising millions in an effort to create more walkable downtowns, inclusive public spaces and emtrepreneurial cultures and ecosystems. And though our downtown is empty with a high vacancy rate and with only speculative investment vs. long term patient capital, we do happen to be the county seat of one of the fifth to tenth richest counties in the country.
The Phoenix Center site was originally designed to serve as a community hub by native son of Pontiac Don Davidson after winning a grassroots campaign and competition in the late 60’s that prevented a shopping mall developer’s plans for Downtown Pontiac. Once built the designer was dismissed and the design was coopted by monoculture development to host GM and concerts.
Since the Phoenix Center has just exited a long litigation battle that began while the City of Pontiac was under Emergency Management, and has survived demolition with the City of Pontiac maintaining ownership, our incubator and like-minded partnerships are moving from an advocacy position toward actionable outcomes.
Our Downtown Youth Program is connected to a 20 year history working to establish dynamic out of school environments and securing large scale grants for our Pontiac School District to create possibilities for Deeper Learning in classroom environments. While serving as Director of the McMath Hulbert Solar Observatory, in the neighboring town Lake Angelus, Co-Director Jim Ross developed a $5 Million "Project Synergy Works" grant for the Pontiac School District that became $20 Million over time under the federal government "21st Century Community Learning Centers" program that is being cut under the Trump administration. While it has been due for a reinvention, cuts to out-of-school programming - at a time when they serve as a space for naturally occurring 21st Century skills development - should raise alarm bells and serve as a touchstone for new Opportunity Zones investment dollars towards community development.
We have recently secured three grants in collaboration with the City of Pontiac for the Mattie McKinney Hatchett Park (Neighborhoods) and the Hidden River Park Community ReDesign Challenge (Downtown, Main Street) as a prototype model for the Phoenix Center. Two Neighborhood Empowerment grant with the City of Pontiac and a $56,000 KaBoom! grant awarded with the understanding of the larger redevelopment of the Phoenix Center underway.
For more on our efforts and advocacy:
Pontiac Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectus, available upon request.
No contact information available