In the shadow of a recently opened automotive factory on Detroit’s east side sits a 12 acre slice of land known as the Lodge Playfield. Detroit City Council members recently labeled the area as a “surplus property.”
By doing so, officials say they hope to attract a buyer who will commercially develop the site — potentially creating hundreds of new jobs in the Georgia St. and Van Dyke neighborhood. However several community members, like Mark Covington, would rather see the Lodge Playfield redeveloped as a park.
“We’re park desolate,” says Covington, who is President of the Georgia Street Community Collective. “We don’t have a lot of parks in this neighborhood… Well we do, but the city doesn’t invest in them. We believe that redevelopment of this park can help be a catalyst [for the] redevelopment of commercial and residential.”
City officials say any development on the property will be required to include a community-accessible park. They also say a new park is currently being built near the A.L. Holmes Elementary School on Crane St. — about half a mile away from the Lodge Playfield.
Covington says he worries the writing could be on the wall for the area west of Van Dyke — fearing it may become over-run by industrial development. He says recent expansions, such as the Flex-n-Gate auto parts plant, haven’t led to bigger things for the neighborhood.
“Flex-n-Gate has 800 people working there now, but there’s no development or commercial or anything. I mean it seems like 800 people would spur at least two or three restaurants, [or] a store or something around here — and Van Dyke has none.”
Community activists say they’re concerned the neighborhood’s environmental status has been holding it back. The Lodge Playfield sits only blocks away from the U.S. Ecology Hazardous Waste Facility, which handles low-level radioactive byproducts that come from fracking.
State Representative Isaac Robinson says U.S. Ecology is currently seeking approval to expand that site’s storage capacity.
“We’re calling on Governor Whitmer and the MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) to stand up and not issue an approval of their permit for a 10-fold expansion,” Robinson explains. “They want to go from 60-thousand gallons capacity to over 600-thousand gallons capacity.”
While there are lingering concerns about the neighborhood’s future, former Detroit City Councilwoman Alberta Tinsely-Talibi says she remembers when the community around Georgia St. and Van Dyke was a vibrant place to be.
“It hurts,” she recalls, “because I can remember when there was all kinds of shopping in this community. Well, we don’t see that today, but that doesn’t mean it cannot come back.”
Tinsley-Talibi says she does not think industrial development will bring the neighborhood back to it’s former glory. She says she wants to see more conversations between the city of Detroit and area residents on the future of the Lodge Playfield.