The Gordie Howe International Bridge is set to start construction in southwest Detroit this September, and increasingly city and state planners are considering what will happen to the span’s neighbor: Historic Fort Wayne, reports Bridge Magazine, WDET’s reporting partner in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.
The fort, built in 1841, is in “rather derelict condition,” says reporter Joel Kurth, but it’s located adjacent to what will be the Detroit exit of the new bridge, much like Fort Michilimackinac’s placement next to the Mackinac Bridge.
The precedent for a historic tourism site near such a crossing has added possibilities for the Detroit fort.
“Some people want to make it into a national park,” Kurth says.
Click here to read Kurth’s story.
Kurth spoke with WDET’s Sandra Svoboda about the site. Click on the audio player above to hear the conversation. A full transcript appears below.
Sandra Svoboda: What would it take to do that?
Joel Kurth: The city of Detroit would have to agree to deed over the fort to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. There’s hope from aides to Gov. Rick Snyder on down that that would compel the federal government to make this derelict piece of property into a national park.
Sandra Svoboda: It sounds like there’s a lot of political players in this game. What do we know about their strategies at this point?
Joel Kurth: Right now there’s been a study of the feasibility of doing this. It’s kind of sat on the shelf. It’s certainly starting to make the rounds among the city right now. There’s a lot of conjecture as to whether or not the city wants this to happen because it’s valuable land. It’s 90 acres of waterfront property. And it would fit into the city’s riverfront development plans. So there’s a big question as to whether or not the mayor of Detroit actually wants to see this happen because it would take a lot of property off the tax rolls.
Sandra Svoboda: For people who have not visited Fort Wayne lately, what is going on there?
Joel Kurth: There’s actually a fort, a five-star fort, which has actually been maintained fairly well. There’s a large group of dedicated volunteers who have their soccer tournaments there. There’s flea markets. There’s been plans over the years to do more including having concerts down there, having race car races. But right now mostly it’s confined to soccer matches, some historical reenactments. There’s about 37 sort of off buildings that are historically significant but are in pretty rough shape.
Sandra Svoboda: As part of this package stories, you write about not only these issues we’re talking about with Fort Wayne but also about a historical warehouse that is in that neighborhood. Tell us what is there.
Joel Kurth: It’s on the site of Historic Fort Wayne. It’s operated by the Detroit Historical Society. This is basically just their warehouse for all their cool old stuff. It’s not heated so they have all these great old cars: Coleman Young’s armor-plated limousine. Lee Iacocca’s Lincoln wrapped in bubble wrap along with the world’s largest collection of chinaware from Great Lakes freighters. It’s really fascinating. It’s off the grid. It’s kind of hidden. I just rang the bell and said “pretty please,” and they let me in and gave me a tour.
Sandra Svoboda: That’s a little bit about Detroit’s past. What can we say about the future? What’s kind of happening in the next few months in that neighborhood relative to the bridge?
Joel Kurth: Delray as we know it is vanishing by the day. That’s the site of the bridge. They’re cutting down 4,000 trees. There’s a couple dozen business left. They’re really razing the ground for the footprint of the bridge and the customs plaza. They expect to start work in September. There’s one very large court hearing left with Matty Maroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, who wants to block the construction of the (Gordie Howe) bridge. There’s a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court in July about whether or not the state is going to condemn about 10 parcels necessary for the project.
Here’s more of WDET’s coverage of the Gordie Howe International Bridge and the neighborhoods near the project: