Supporting Emerging Developers in Detroit Neighborhoods

February 25th, 2020

Nate Barnes on our neighborhoods team writes about our efforts to support up-and-coming Detroit developers through our real estate projects supported by the Strategic Neighborhood Fund and introduces us to Marcus Jones and Akunna Olumba who are working on a development in Livernois-McNichols.


Let’s say you just purchased a building or piece of land in one of Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) neighborhood and want to turn it into a community asset. Congrats! You were savvy enough to scope out a critical piece of real estate in an area targeted for redevelopment! A few questions will come up: Who are you going to partner with to develop the property? Will the project be equitable and sustainable? How will you know what is important to the residents in the neighborhood? In fact, what exactly are you building, and who or what will go in it?

Invest Detroit is not in the business of directly developing real estate, so the neighborhoods team, working on commercial corridor and real estate projects funded by the SNF matches key properties with developers through a request for proposals (RFP) process designed in partnership with the City of Detroit and local Community Development Corporations (CDCs). As my colleague Darnell Adams wrote back in June, one of our main goals at Invest Detroit is supporting Detroit-based developers of color by intentionally connecting them to real estate tools, technical assistance, and resources.

Once a developer is selected for a project, our team works in partnership with them to ensure success by helping them tackle the questions above. This means connecting them to neighborhood associations so they can hear directly from residents about what would be meaningful to them, coaching them through the city government process and making introductions to those who can help, and connecting them to other partners that can provide assistance and support to address challenges that might come up.

One developer team we are currently working with is Marcus Jones and Akunna Olumba (pictured above) of Legacy City Group who were matched with a property at 7316 W. McNichols in the SNF neighborhood at Livernois-McNichols. Their vision is to rehab the existing vacant structure, incorporate workforce development and environmental sustainability into the project, and provide residents with healthy but delicious food options.

They both come to the project with considerable skillsets and real estate experience, and Invest Detroit staff members work side-by-side with Marcus and Akunna throughout the development process to help when necessary. Through a series of community events, we and our partners at Live6 were able to connect them to neighborhood residents to help further shape their idea and gain community support—a valuable and helpful process in neighborhood development. By leveraging our expertise and relationships, Marcus and Akunna are already starting construction and on track to complete this project later this year.

But this work goes far beyond this specific project. By working with them so closely, it is our hope that they will be able to leverage the experience, city government connections, and community goodwill they accumulate for future projects in the city, establishing themselves as key partners in shaping Detroit’s future.

To date, we’ve matched five SNF properties with Detroit-based developers of color or CDCs. We plan to continue this intentional pairing of property and local talent in future RFPs, always keeping in mind the questions of who gets to participate in developing the future look and feel of this city, and what can we do to support homegrown development professionals eager to rebuild our neighborhoods.