Salvation Army deal threatens Lipke Park
McDonald’s owner pushes deal for church to get park
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Over 300 citizens rallied July 25 in Lipke Park to organize and protest the pending deal for the park worked out behind closed doors between the Mayor Mike Duggan administration, district councilperson Scott Benson and the Salvation Army represented by McDonald’s owner Errol Service.
The 15-acre site, with a 10-year-old recreation center was fully functional when Mayor Dave Bing shut it down in October 2012. Its operations were in the budget at that time, said Russ Bellant, area resident and president of the Detroit Public Library Commission.
The city plans to transfer the property to the Salvation Army, which is legally a church and thus pays no taxes and is free from public scrutiny. McDonald’s owner Errol Service, who sits on the Salvation Army board, said during a July community meeting he intends to put a water park on the site.
The only other plan for the land the community is aware of is that the recreation center will be a Salvation Army outreach center. Some of the Lipke park advocates believe the outreach center will house homeless people from Cass Corridor who they say will be relocated because of Mike Ilitch’s new hockey stadium. The city gave Ilitch 38 square blocks for one dollar and tax breaks for 30 years. Many say they fear a new McDonald’s will be built on Van Dyke street side.
The Lipke neighborhood has the largest concentration of children in Michigan, Bellant said.
Mayor Mike Duggan, his chief of recreation Charlie Beckham and District 3 Council person Scott Benson are telling the community they must produce “a plan, a feasible plan” or the park and facility will go to the Salvation Army.
“It’s crazy to say you want to help our kids,” Demond Petty told the crowd, “when within 76 blocks you have closed two schools and now the park? You have left our kids with nothing to do. You are going to lose what is left of Black men if the Salvation Army gets this park.”
A score of block club presidents and area civic association leaders spoke out to keep the park.
“Don’t call the police when our kids are playing basketball in the streets,” Dianne Allen said. “We expect to raise healthy, strong individuals. How can they be when we aren’t helping them?”
Lu Williams, a nurse, said the center was needed to help the children be healthy.
“The city can find a whole lot to sell, but let’s keep these parks,” Kenneth Davis said.
Yolanda Thompson, a 30-year resident, said Lipke was a “vital place.” She urged the crowd, “Believe in community. We can get things done.”
Margaret Agee said she wants the Lipke center reopened “to teach our children to be productive.” She listed the activities, now missing, that the recreation center had provided over the years including sewing, computer classes, arts and crafts.
Pat Bosch, executive director of Nortown Community Development Corporation, said money was available for the center. In 2011, the city received a $300,000 grant for the facility from Michigan Department of Natural Resources and budgeted its matching grant.
“Where’s the money?” Bosch asked. “The council has never voted to receive it.”
Also she referred to Mayor Duggan’s announcement that various corporations had raised $120 million for city parks.
Benson told residents, after the rally, the council just approved the 2014-2015 budget and there was only $12 million for recreation and Lipke “needs $2 million a year to operate.”
Bosch, Bellant and other community residents organized a tour of the shuttered center with experts in building engineering and construction.
The city said millions were needed for repairs, Bellant said. “That’s a lie.” He listed needed repairs including replacement of the heating and air conditioning equipment, new pumps for the pool, some tile work and wall repairs. That will not cost millions, he said.
Bosch urged the crowd to be ready to attend a public hearing at the Coleman Alexander Young Municipal Center, not formally scheduled, but believed to be Sept. 4 after the council’s month-long break.
The City Council voted to designate the property “surplus” and to convert its recreation designation to institutional use. Now, to remove it as recreation from the master plan, they must schedule a hearing.
See also: Keep Lipke Park Public