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Revised African Town moves ahead

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  • James
    Detroit officials hand the plan for an all-black business district to a private development firm. DETROIT - As the Detroit City Council recovers from the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2004
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      Detroit officials hand the plan for an all-black business district to
      a private development firm.
      DETROIT - As the Detroit City Council recovers from the embarrassment
      of trying to create a black business district that was rife with the
      possibility of political and legal challenges, the task of fashioning
      a legitimate African Town has begun.

      Claud Anderson's racially inflammatory language, part of the original
      proposal for a black entrepreneurial enclave, has been withdrawn from
      the table.

      And tempers have simmered among minority groups, who were initially
      upset over the language and the premise that the plan would provide
      loans exclusively to blacks.

      While African Town still has several hurdles to clear before it could
      come to fruition, the issue has prompted a racial dialogue and
      understanding in the city among ethnic groups. But at the same time,
      it perpetuated the divisiveness of the City Council.

      The council voted 5-4 to turn over the African Town project to the
      quasi-public Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the lead private
      development agency for the city.

      George Jackson, the corporation's president, said the agency is doing
      an assessment of the concept before doing a timeline. He entertained
      the possibility of developing vacant land as well as using existing
      commercial areas for expansion.

      "A need has been defined to help and support the businesses owned by
      African-Americans and other minorities," he said. "I don't think we
      should start off by boxing ourselves in with one theory."

      Neither money nor location has been ironed out, but Jackson said the
      corporation is working on the project.

      ? He said there are a number of ways to tackle funding, such as
      tapping government programs, but equity from developers and business
      owners is necessary, too.

      Many community leaders say they no longer begrudge an African Town now
      that the council backpedaled from its original actions. The first
      plan, which Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick vetoed and the council then
      overturned this summer, called for creating a loan fund using public
      dollars for blacks only, based on Anderson's report, which blamed
      immigrants for taking jobs from blacks.

      "Whether the African-American community wants an African Town is not
      for the Arab community to decide," said Jumana Judeh of the American
      Arab Chamber of Commerce. "Any opportunities that are going to build
      this city (are good)."

      In response to the first plan, nonblack minorities held protests at
      City Hall.

      The result of their efforts was a new resolution recognizing European,
      Latino, Arab, Chaldean and Asian business owners as contributors to
      the city's economic fabric. It also promises to proceed legally to
      establish a business district to incorporate the rich heritage of
      blacks in Detroit.

      Frank Wu, the new Wayne State University Law School dean and author of
      "Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White," said a race
      relations lesson has been learned.

      "It's complicated. It's become more than just black and white. It
      involves Arabs, Asians, Latinos and immigrants who might be black or
      white as well. It's about money and symbolism. And the process of
      bridge building will take tremendous time and effort and frustration.
      But it is absolutely necessary. Most importantly, nonblack minorities
      have learned how important it is to reach out to African-Americans,"
      Wu said.

      Latino leaders raised their political profile, too, which could
      influence next year's council race when all nine members are up for
      re-election.

      "If the Hispanic community rallies around a particular candidate who
      already has a citywide presence, that community could ... make a
      difference in a new person making the council or a person becoming
      (council) president," said political consultant Greg Bowens.

      The city is 82 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic, up from 3 percent
      in 1990. Much of the new development in Detroit is occurring in
      southwest Detroit, a largely Latino corridor. Twelve-thousand black
      businesses exist in the city but the tax base is low and economic
      blight is prevalent.

      Maria Elena Rodriguez, president of the Mexican Town Community
      Development Corporation, said people were initially opposed to the
      exclusion of people, not African Town.

      "I think we nipped it in the bud," Rodriguez said of the controversy.

      Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel voted against the original resolution but
      favors the new one.

      "I really hope the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and the planning
      commission staff and various black trade organizations ... identify
      some private sector and public sector dollars" for a district that
      celebrates historic and cultural contributions of African-Americans,
      she said.

      You can reach Natalie Y. Moore at (313) 222-2396 or nmoore@....
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