The ‘homeland’: JEI’s historic reno brings nonprofit back to Jefferson Chalmers and anchors community development efforts

The ‘homeland’: JEI’s historic reno brings nonprofit back to Jefferson Chalmers and anchors community development efforts

Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood doesn’t always get a lot of recognition, but it’s brimming with resources – 164 acres of waterfront parks, magnificent bungalow homes along 100-year-old brick streets, and the city’s most resilient walkable commercial corridor along Jefferson Avenue. It’s also the “homeland” for Jefferson East Inc. (JEI), a nonprofit community and economic development organization working to revitalize the Jefferson Avenue corridor running through Jefferson Chalmers and four other neighborhoods.

“Our priority is developing inclusive neighborhoods,” said Derric Scott, JEI’s Economic Development Director and CEO of JEI’s development entity, EJDevCo. “We’re all about making sure that as development happens, Detroiters are not displaced and development is equitable. There is room for long-standing Detroit businesses to stay in place and also attract new businesses to the corridor.”

JEI’s inclusive neighborhood redevelopment standards include incentivizing local hiring practices for both perspective tenants and the general contractors building out the new spaces. The organization is also working with new tenants to ensure that their products and services are accessible to neighborhood residents.

“It’s one thing to bring in a new burger place, but if the burger cost $17 and the residents don’t feel like they can afford it, they won’t see the development as something that’s for them,” Scott said. “We work in areas where market forces haven’t yet returned, and we have a great role to play in putting some of these principles in place. That way, once development does come back, there’s already a culture of this happening.”

As new developers come into the community, JEI asks them to sign on to its inclusive neighborhood redevelopment standards. Developers are motivated to work with JEI because its history and credibility in the neighborhood give it access to local, city, and philanthropic resources that can ease development burdens.

A $229,000 loan from IFF is helping to finance the buildout of one of nine JEI projects currently underway – the buildout of one of the original Kresge five-and-dime stores on Jefferson Avenue. This historic 6,200-square-feet building will house JEI’s new headquarters as well as a new restaurant that fuses Mexican, Asian, and Soul Food cuisine. Alma Kitchen will not only serve as an anchor tenant in the building, but as an anchor business at the Jefferson Chalmers end of the corridor as well. The project also includes an unusual green stormwater infrastructure element that will capture about 100,000 gallons of rain water, one of the first such interventions by a commercial property in Detroit.

“This area is the hardest-hit by flooding in Detroit, so we’re leveraging this project to help the community in more ways than one,” Scott said. “It’s a precedent we hope others will follow.”

Scott also notes that while JEI affectionately calls the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood its “homeland” because that’s where the organization first formed, the staff has been working from temporary offices further down the corridor for some time. JEI moved from its Jefferson Chalmers location in October 2016 in order to bring Norma G’s Caribbean Restaurant to the neighborhood. Norma G’s will be the first full-service restaurant in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, and it is scheduled to open any day.

“We have had a small satellite office in Jeff-Chalmers so that people could still access us, but we’re looking forward to getting all our employees back on the corridor and back in the neighborhood,” Scott said. “It’s time to go home.”

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