For generations, the Lipke Recreation Center served as a place where children in Detroit's Osborn neighborhood could gather and play. That all changed last year, when the 14-acre facility fell victim to budget cuts and the theft of its heating and cooling system.
The shutting of its doors, however, turns out to have only been another chapter in the story of the center and playfield, established in 1952 to honor brothers Clarence and Nicholas Lipke, two fallen WWII soldiers who grew up in the neighborhood.
Lipke is now poised for a comeback, thanks to a $10 million effort spearheaded by Mitch Albom's S.A.Y. Detroit (Super All Year Detroit) charity, and Lion’s quarterback Matthew Stafford's Score7 Charitable Fund in partnership with the city of Detroit.
Their plan is to reopen and upgrade Lipke, transforming it into a combination sports and academic center for Detroit youth, ages 8 to 18, called the S.A.Y. Play Center.
"Yesterday this was an eyesore, a closed facility without heating and cooling, and today you can open your eyes and see something good, people coming together and working together," Albom told a cheering crowd at a Jan. 27 event celebrating the reopening. "We're going to make this an experiment in this neighborhood, and if it works here hopefully it will work in other places as well."
The new improvements include the construction of football and soccer fields, an ice rink, a baseball diamond and an indoor practice space and interior renovation. Indoors, the center will offer basketball courts, a fully equipped workout facility, a dance studio, and a recording studio provided by a group called Notes For Notes. The pool area will be preserved, but covered up, to allow for a 2,500 square foot digital learning center. Stafford also plans to play a mentoring role with help from his Detroit Lions’ teammates.
Use of the facilities will be contingent on a 2.5 grade point average and good school attendance. Learning resources will be available to tutor youth who don't meet these standards.
S.A.Y. Detroit will operate the center through a lease agreement with the city of Detroit. Several sports fields will be available for public use when it doesn’t conflict with scheduled activities. Construction is expected to last through April with a "soft opening" slated for this fall.
Mary Pettis of the Helco Block Club is delighted that local kids will be coming back to Lipke.
"It means a lot,” she tells Mode Shift. “They'll have something to do after school hours. It was very, very active here--a lot of neighborhood kids and teams, football teams, baseball teams.”
The reopening is a hard-won victory for her block club and other stakeholders, like Nortown Community Development organization and Detroit Library Commission Member Russ Bellant, who banded together to save the center from a deal with the Salvation Army that would have closed it for good. Their persistence struck a chord with Mayor Mike Duggan, who called off the plan and pulled out all the stops to make the S.A.Y. Detroit project happen.
Lipke’s return is certainly a win for neighborhood kids. Tia and Antoine, two students from nearby Marion Law Academy, could barely contain their enthusiasm.
"I think it’s very good, 'cause little kids love to play basketball, football and all that," Antoine, 11, told Mode Shift.
"I feel like it’s exciting because we get to play basketball and we get to dance,” added 10-year-old Tia. “And we get to have a recording studio, and it’s good for our education."
In addition to the fun factor, the return of the play center will likely have other benefits.
According to an Atlanta, Georgia study that analyzed the travel patterns of youth between five- and twenty-years-old, those living near parks and open space tend to take walks at a rate of two to three times more than those who did not.
Although it’s difficult to draw a direct correlation, there's also evidence that these types of facilities cut down on juvenile delinquency.
Police officials in Fort Myers, Florida observed a 28 percent decrease in youth arrests following the launch of a program called STARS (Success through Academic and Recreational Support), according to a National Recreation and Park Association report.
It also cited a 2007 study of the Los Angeles-based after school program, LA’s Best, that found youth who participated at a higher rate in that program “had significantly lower incidences of juvenile crime.”
Alicia Champion, who coaches basketball at Tia and Antoine’s school, certainly feels the reopened facility will have a positive impact on local kids.
"The kids in the neighborhood really need it. This is like their only place to go unless they're going to do the wrong things,” she told Mode Shift. “Not only am I excited, but I feel very happy and blessed for these kids because they’re not just opening what was here, they're actually adding on to it."