Neighborhood Investment for Sustainability

Northwest Detroit is a thriving part of the city and is a staple in the Motor City.  It’s home to beautiful homes, longstanding residents and many small businesses.  It’s also home to the famed “Avenue of Fashion”, Livernois.
City resources and plans have been targeted, developed and implemented across many of the city’s neighborhoods, including the Livernois and McNichols corridor.  Collaborative efforts and resources are being implemented to ensure longer-term viability for its residents and its nearly 300 businesses.  In conjunction with investors, business owners, institutional partners and residents, Live6 Alliance creates opportunities for people, businesses, and investors to convene, engage and enrich each other’s lives, while moving the neighborhood forward.
I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Geneva Williams, Executive Director, Live6 Alliance, about the progress being made along the Livernois/McNichols corridor over the last five years and its vision for the future.
Lee:  What is the Live6 Alliance?
Williams:  The Live6 Alliance is a non-profit community development consortium focused on the Livernois and McNichols corridors.  The magic word is Alliance.  Everything we do is made possible by the foresight and commitment of our supporters and stakeholders, including the Kresge and Hudson Webber Foundations, Reimagining the Civic Commons, and the Ballmer Group, along with landmark institutions like U of D Mercy, Marygrove College, and the City itself.
All of the businesses, block clubs, and, most of all, residents of our four core neighborhoods: Bagley, Fitzgerald, University District, and Martin Park, are our allies and partners in moving one of Detroit’s most iconic areas forward in a new era.
Our mantra is “Together We Thrive.”
Lee:  And what’s the overall vision for Live6 Alliance?
Williams:  And that is what it takes: everyone who has a stake in our neighborhoods working together for the common good toward a shared vision of thriving in a time when many say urban neighborhoods are dead.  Come visit the impact of collaboration in the Ella Fitzgerald Park and Greenway (formerly a blighted area), the Livernois streetscape completed last year, and the current renovation of McNichols, not to mention our Live6 headquarters: Neighborhood HomeBase, at 7426 W. McNichols.
Lee:  Is the organization responsible for the Livernois/7 Mile work completed recently?  Please explain if there’s an overlap.
Williams:  The now completed “streetscaping” along Livernois between 7 and 8 Mile, including those magnificent 16’ sidewalks, was a City of Detroit project we were pleased to support.  This is a great example of the City responding to both community concerns and potential.  It gave new life to Detroit’s iconic “Avenue of Fashion” in our Live6 footprint and greatly expanded the opportunity for the businesses along that corridor to flourish.
Meanwhile, we’ve been an active partner with the City in its streetscape overhaul along 6 Mile.  With convenient bus-boarding “bump-outs,” new bicycle lanes, landscaping, and streetlights, it will be a great place, a great space helping to revitalize the corridor and make McNichols an important part of our Live6 place-making mission.  Completion is set for November.
Lee:  How does Live6 Alliance interact with the business and community development sectors?
Williams:  Our Live6 ‘big picture” is to enrich, enliven, and enhance life in our community.  We do it with partners like Invest Detroit and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation to maximize responsible investment supporting living, working, and playing in the community.
At the center of Live6 Alliance’s place-based investment strategy is Detroit’s Livernois and McNichols (6 Mile) commercial corridors. This community has long served as a vital backbone for the City, hosting a mix of retail and other businesses, housing and anchor institutions, connecting people, and urban vitality. University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College are cornerstones of these neighborhoods.
The area is defined by some of Detroit’s other great assets: the Detroit Golf Club (home of world-class tournaments) and Palmer Park, offering unparalleled open spaces for sports, recreation, and relaxation; the historic Avenue of Fashion businesses built on a long-legacy of arts and culture; and strong and stable neighborhoods with a diverse mix of architectural styles that Detroit families have called home for decades.
Lee:  How many small businesses are covered by the Live6 Alliance?   
Williams: A recently completed scan of commerce using Dunn and Bradstreet and other national databases document 274 businesses in our area. We are validating those enterprises to create a district-wide directory that will help us better identify and serve their needs while encouraging patronage.
In response to the challenges of reopening after the COVID 19 shutdown, we funded outdoor furniture and planters for restaurants to expand business outdoors and provided corona-care packages with masks and hand sanitizer to 70 businesses within our geography.
Lee:  And what type of support is provided for entrepreneurs?
Our yearly Market on the Ave street fair went virtual, giving vendors an opportunity to expand their followers and consumers a chance to connect with local entrepreneurs.
Our Façade Grant Program leverages our placemaking goals, with the Live6 Corridor Remix, focusing funding on exterior improvements to privately-owned properties and vacant lots. It is a great complement to the McNichols streetscape improvements.
Market 2 MainStreet, a complete business growth consultancy and pop-up retail space for neighborhood businesses, serves as a start-up hub and accelerator for entrepreneurs.
Access to capital is always a barrier for small businesses. During the COVID pandemic, we partnered with the City of Detroit and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation to identify funding available for small businesses, make entrepreneurs aware of important deadlines pertaining to the grants, and connected them to resources as needed.
Over the next six months, our national consultant, U3, is developing a needs assessment for small businesses, tracking key metrics on the health and growth of commercial corridors, and identifying opportunities to ensure success.
Lee:  What are the significant challenges and how have they evolved and/or changed during this pandemic?
Williams:  Significant investment and development of neighborhood assets have long been challenging in this city.  Now, over the last half-dozen years, it has become a priority.  Live6 Alliance strives to be a model of the impact coalescing resources can be in aiding, enhancing, and accelerating business growth and residential viability.
We coalesce the financial resources of our funders and investors, the commitment of the City of Detroit, and the spirit and energy of our excellent staff, our business owners, and especially our residents to revitalize this iconic urban neighborhood.
Thank you — to Kresge, Rockefeller and Hudson Webber Foundations, Ballmer Group, Reimagining the Civic Commons, and other funders, plus stakeholders like Invest Detroit, DEGC, U of D Mercy, and especially to Dr. Antoine Garibaldi, its president and the leader of our esteemed Board of Directors.
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Mark S. Lee is Founder, President & CEO, The LEE Group, and can be heard “In the Conference Room”, Sundays, 11 am, on 910am. He hosts the “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee” podcasts at