DETROIT (WWJ) – The place where champion boxer Joe Louis used to train is being spared from the wrecking ball, in hopes of finding a developer.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced, Thursday morning, that the city is looking for proposals to rehab the now-vacant Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center on St. Aubin near I-75.
Duggan said the city is hoping to see proposals that would “preserve and celebrate” the center’s 85-year history; but would, at the same time, also make good business sense and work with other development plans for the Brewster and Brush neighborhoods.
“I wanna see the building reused in a way the remembers what it meant to the Brewster neighborhood, what it meant to Joe Louis, what Leon Wheeler (Detroit’s first black recreation worker) meant to this community,” Duggan said.
Duggan said he’s not looking for “pie-in-the-sky” plans, but he wants a viable business idea that can keep the center open for years to come.
“I don’t know if we’re gonna be successful or not,” Duggan added, “but the reason we’re doing this is we’re gonna give it out best effort; we’ll see what the proposals look like, and if there’s any way to save this building we’re going to.”
The mayor said nothing’s off the table — but ideas shouldn’t be limited to the recreation realm, pointing out that the building was once a library.
“I am hoping that somebody will look past a rec center that’s been allowed to deteriorate and see a unique opportunity,” Duggan said.
Among those present at Thursday’s news conference was Donyetta Hlil, with the group “Our Community Rises,” who brought a message from Joe Louis, Jr., saying that it would be a tremendous loss to the community if the rec center was demolished.
Talking to WWJ’s Ron Dewey, however, Hill admitted that Joe Louis, Jr., was not immediately on board.
“I basically had to win him over. Because when I first talked to him, he was like, skeptical… like, ‘Oh, no; I don’t wanna get involved.’ This and that,” said Hill.
“So I actually sent him a short story of myself: A short story of being in Brewster; a short story of being born and raised underprivileged, you know … So I guess he read a little about it, you know, and it came to him, and he called me about an hour before I was on my way here and was like, I want you to tell them this,” she said.
Hill added that while she’s glad to hear the building itself may be saved, she’d still like to see it reopened as a rec center.
The center sits adjacent to what’s left of the former Frederick Douglass Homes — where Louis once lived— currently in the final stages of demolition.
Duggan said proposals will be accepted through Sept. 22.