Detroit is investing $45 million to renovate aging recreational centers and build new ones

Great Recs

Detroit is investing $45 million to renovate aging recreational centers and build new ones

The vacant Lenox Recreation Center in Detroit is one of 11 rec center-focused community improvement projects announced by the city last month. (Courtesy City of Detroit)

Last month, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan revealed plans for a $45 million overhaul of the city’s community recreation centers in an ambitious effort that ranks as the largest undertaking of its kind in Detroit in decades. Many of the Detroit Parks & Recreation-operated rec centers targeted in the sweeping improvement campaign are aging and in significant need of upgrades and additional space to meet the needs of contemporary users, and most are located at or adjacent to city parks.

Notably, Detroit’s rec center revamp is financed in part by funds allocated to the city as part of 2021’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 economic recovery package, the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). In total, $30 million in ARPA funds allocated to the city with be used. Additionally, $10 million in city bond funds will go toward rehabbing seven existing recreational centers. Renovation work at some of these facilities has already wrapped up within the past year and the centers are open and operational; at others, construction work is currently underway. Improvements range from landscaping overhauls and upgraded HVAC systems to lobby redesigns and pool and gym upgrades.

As for the larger rec center revitalization projects that tap into ARPA funding, those have yet to kick off. The Dexter-Elmhurst Recreation Center, which was shuttered in 2019 due to funding struggles and is now privately owned, will be purchased by the city and replaced with a multifaceted, state-of-the-art community hub that’s slated to debut in 2024. And at Chandler Park on Detroit’s East Side, the city will construct a climate-controlled dome for year-round sports on what’s currently a football field. Construction on both of these major undertakings, which cost $8.5 million and $12 million, respectively, is slated to kick off next year. Also expected to kick off in 2023 is a $4 million expansion of the Farwell Recreation Center to include a new gym, lockers, and walking circuit.

dexter elmhurst rec center in detroit
The current Dexter-Elmhurst Rec Center, which has been closed since 2019.  (Courtesy City of Detroit)
exterior of a new community center in detroit
The new Dexter-Elmhurst Community Center set to open in 2024.  (Courtesy City of Detroit)

The ARPA funding will also cover the $3 million cost of relocating a historic wood band shell at the old Michigan State Fairgrounds to the 296-acre Palmer Park.

In addition to the above projects, it was announced this past January that the city is using $7 million in ARPA funds for the redevelopment of the iconic Lee Plaza, a blighted and long-vacant art deco landmark that once ranked as the most opulent residential hotel in Motor City, into a senior housing facility. Per the Detroit Free PressDetroit received $826 million in ARPA funds, the fifth-largest amount of any American city, and set aside $400 million of those funds for budget shortfalls. The remainder is earmarked for the so-called Detroit Future Fund, which includes a workforce training program, a $30 million roof replacement scheme for qualifying Detroit homeowners, neighborhood-based blight remediation efforts, and more, including the recently announced rec center revitalization program. (Detroiters can track how the city is spending the $826 million in ARPA funds on this recently launched section of the city website.)

rendering of a community center at sundown
The new Lenox Recreation Center (Courtesy City of Detroit)

Joining the $30 million in ARPA-sourced funding and the $10 million in city bond funds is a $5 million donation from auto racing mogul Roger Penske earmarked for the rebuilding of the abandoned Lenox Recreation Center in the East Side neighborhood of Jefferson Chalmers. As detailed by the city, the new $6.8 million facility, which is designed by INFORM Studio and is set to include function rooms, a communal kitchen, and more, will be solar-powered and double as a community resilience hub for Detroit residents experiencing power outages.

As noted in a press release from the Mayor’s Office, 20 city-operated recreational centers have been closed across Detroit since the 1980s, leaving many already-underserved neighborhoods without these vital and versatile community resources that are particularly valuable to younger residents.

“In the past eight years, we’ve completely renovated more than 150 parks, giving children and families across the city the opportunity for a quality place to play near their homes,” said Duggan in a statement. “Now we are shifting our attention to our aging recreation centers to make sure they, too, are of the quality you would see available in any suburban community.”

More on Detroit’s various rec center improvement projects—11 in total— including timelines, costs, and other details can be found here.