DETROIT, MI – Detroit’s Greektown was for many years a destination for locals and tourists alike who enjoyed the Greek restaurants and the lively atmosphere along Monroe Street. In recent years, however, development of other areas was leaving Greektown behind. The Greektown Neighborhood Partnership (GNP), formerly called the Greektown Preservation Society, now has a plan for redevelopment of the area, Detroit Free Press (DFP) reported, adding that the 256-page Framework Vision plan “offers a road map to revival for a neighborhood that, despite its problems, still ranks as one of the city’s oldest and proudest.”
Among the strategies: “New residential development could rise on what is now surface parking lots, much as it has elsewhere in the greater downtown; surface lots could also be converted to pocket parks and other public spaces. The plan also envisions turning neglected alleys behind buildings into alley walks with murals, new lighting and other attractions; and…everything from higher-grade paving materials to new signage and light to visually tie together the district. Traffic on Monroe could be restricted to a single one-way lane to allow for wider sidewalks for outdoor cafes,” the DFP reported.
GNP is determined to blend the old with the new in Greektown, preserving the character of the area while adding “new urban attractions.”
Melanie Markowicz, GNP’s recently-hired executive director told the DFP, “it’s an opportune time to knit together this neighborhood through a bold planning effort and that’s exactly what this organization plans to do. It’s not just Monroe Street we’re talking about. We’re talking about making it a connected, concerted neighborhood that feels cohesive and connected to the rest of the parts of the downtown core.”
GNP Board President Athina Papas said that “maintaining the still-strong Greek heritage remains a goal of the partnership even as new development is welcome,” DFP reported, noting that her family “owns multiple properties in the district.”
“Change is not necessarily a bad thing,” she told DFP. “Having some of those larger chain things brings more attention to the district. As long as it’s not overdone we can find a balance.”
GNP Board Vice President Tasso Teftsis, who is also a long-time property owner and runs venues including the Astoria Pastry Shop,” told DFP, “there’s still a lot of second generation Greek people here that really, really want to keep that [Greek identity].”
The ambitious plan, DFP reported, “envisions unifying the multiple blocks from Lafayette on the south to Gratiot on the north, Randolph on the west and I-375 to the east,” adding that major changes are already in the works with “businessman Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock real estate arm buying Wayne County’s criminal justice complex and ‘fail jail’ site for a new mixed-use development.”
“Dozens” of Greektown property owners support the Framework Vision, DFP reported.
The east side of downtown Detroit was once an enclave of German immigrants, until the late 19th century when Greek immigrants began arriving. The many Greek restaurants in the area remained popular well into Detroit’s decline beginning in the mid-20th century. As certain sections of downtown Detroit experienced a renewal in recent years, Greektown lagged somewhat behind and soon became a “nighttime entertainment district, with little appeal for families with children, the elderly, or those seeking more variety,” DFP reported.
The lack of greenspace, trees, and open public spaces as well as the rowdy late-night visitors detracted from the area’s appeal. The Greek character had also begun to fade with the arrival of chain restaurants like Five Guys and Wahlburgers, though Greek mainstays including Pegasus Taverna and Astoria Pastry Shop maintain the Greek identity of the area.
Developed by lead consultant SOM of Chicago, the Framework plan discusses the challenges in Greektown in its report, noting that “the district becomes much less attractive to families and daytime activities and can grow louder and rowdier at night and during events, which – without mitigation – limits its potential to attract broader uses like residential development and community services,” DFP reported. “Areas with substantial surface parking areas and small, underutilized streets and public spaces can become hot spots for undesirable behavior and can feel unsafe for nearby residents, workers, and visitors.”
The report finds the “lack of residential, retail, community uses, and open space ensure that it becomes a void within the downtown area in the daytime,” DFP reported.
There are also advantages which are key to the area’s revival, including the architecture.
“We take great pride in the fact that we have so much not only cultural heritage but architectural legacy,” Markowitz told DFP. “It’s one of the last remaining contiguous blocks of Victorian architecture in the whole city and I think we oftentimes forget that.”
Beloved by preservationists, the Victorian era buildings “could be reused for housing or commercial space,” DFP reported.
The downtown location is another advantage since Greektown is close to Detroit’s attractions, including the theater and stadium district, and the riverfront, DFP reported.
John Warner, GNP Director of Neighborhood Development told DFP that “what people love about Greektown for decades will still be here. That’s an important message. Greektown is here to stay.”