Editor's Note: Mode Shift talked to Tami Salisbury, executive director of Eight Mile Boulevard Association, about what the association is doing to improve quality of life along one of our region’s most infamous streets. We like what she had to say so much, we’re publishing this story in three parts.
DETROIT—Friedrich Schiller, an 18th century German dramatist, one said, “Appearance rules the world." If that’s the case, when it comes to streetscapes, the folks at Eight Mile Boulevard Association are pretty tuned in. Sure, there’s only a two-person staff, but they have 13 mayors and three county commissioners as bosses. And they are advocates of Eight Mile Road in its entirety: from Harper Woods and Eastpointe to Detroit to Farmington Hills and Livonia.
“To mentally transform Eight Mile Road in people’s minds you need to do the physical transformation," ~Tami Salisbury, executive director, 8MBA
Two 8MBA programs that are impacting the appearance along Eight Mile Road are the Corridor Keeper Program and the Façade Improvement Program.
The Corridor Keeper Program was supported by a two-year grant from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. While the grant has run out, and 8MBA can no longer have a staff person dedicated to it, Salisbury and program manager Jordan Twardy, are keeping up with it the best they can.
The program fosters aesthetics along Eight Mile by providing business and property owners with suggestions on improving the appearance of their property and tips on complying with property maintenance codes.
While Salisbury and Twardy conduct Corridor Keeper field tours once a month, where they’re out on the corridor addressing issues and meeting with people, much of the work is ongoing.
“When I see someone with long grass, I pull in and ask them to cut their grass,” says Salisbury. “Just yesterday, I saw one of our grant recipients, and asked him to do that.”
The grants Salisbury is referring to are part of 8MBA’s Façade Improvement Program, where business owners apply for financial assistance from 8MBA to improve the appearance of their businesses.
Tire stores, bars, restaurants and daycare centers are just some of the businesses that have received Façade Improvement funds. Salisbury says the projects need to be transformational to receive funding.
“To mentally transform Eight Mile Road in people’s minds you need to do the physical transformation. That’s what the Façade Improvement Program does,” says Salisbury. “It encourages someone who probably wouldn’t do a façade improvement, or if they did, it would be modest and make little impact. What we really are funding is major impact projects. Our code word for that is transformational.”
Salisbury says that they recently met with a used car lot owner who wanted to apply for Façade Improvement Program support.
“We want it to be the beacon of used car lots,” says Salisbury. “We told him, if you’re not really willing to step up your game and be the best used car lot facility on Eight Mile Road, then we probably aren’t going to fund you.
She says they encourage everyone to apply, but she wants to make sure that business owners are well aware that the improvements they do need to be something everyone along the corridor will be proud of.
The association recently was awarded a $20,000 Lowes Keep America Beautiful grant for this program. Funds will be used for improvements to the 36 perennial gardens along the median of Eight Mile Rd. that 8MBA maintains. “When we get these grants, this is what really allows us to affect the physical changes along Eight Mile Road. So, this is really exciting.”
Outside of the corridor and façade improvement programs, 8MBA is also a champion for Eight Mile Rd. when it comes to new business development or relocation anywhere along the corridor. One of the projects that Salisbury is most proud of—and one that illustrates the importance of the association to Detroit and surrounding suburbs—is the new Meijer store which broke ground this spring at the southeast corner of Eight Mile Rd. and Woodward Ave.
Salisbury started working on the Meijer project with the developers eight years ago in its infancy stages. She provided the original developers the corridor improvement authority legislation that they ultimately used to make this project happen. It’s been part of most of her career with 8MBA.
“Seeing it happen is huge because it’s the biggest retail center ever built in the city. It’s going to be 350,000 square feet; it’s going to provide a grocer. Lots of Detroiters shop at Meijer, but just never shopped at a Meijer in Detroit because there’s never been one here.”
She is excited to see the desolate property, once mounds of dirt, be turned into a retail center that creates upwards of 800 jobs on a daily basis. While the 8MBA offices are currently housed in a building on the site of the new construction and is slated for demolition, Salisbury bubbles with excitement over the forced eviction.
“They [Meijer] said they will average somewhere around two to three thousand people a day that will be patronizing the store,” says Salisbury. “So can you imagine around two to three thousand people a day versus two of us?”
Salisbury says other large parcels of land along Eight Mile Rd., including the 166-acre State Fair Grounds property next door, for which the state is currently asking for proposals, will now be more attractive to developers and others as the Meijer complex takes shape.
But more than that, Salisbury sees the new center, officially dubbed Gateway Marketplace, a bridge between Detroiters and their neighbors across Eight Mile Rd., a place where they can shop for produce and household stuff, shopping cart next to shopping cart, side by side.
“The retail center itself is very exciting because there are very few places along Eight Mile Road that draw urban and suburban shoppers,” says Salisbury. “And our association is very much about breaking down the Eight Mile dividing line stereotype of the past. What a huge win this development is going to be towards that end.”
8MBA's work is hard and they're not well-funded. Can the community do more to support them? Should they? Tell us in the comments below, or click over to their site and give: eightmile.org