24 Hours in Highland Park: City’s Journey from Industrial Decline to Community Revival

Amidst the shadows of former manufacturing giants, Highland Park stands resolute—a city poised on the brink of a profound transformation. This narrative isn’t merely about economic metrics or architectural blueprints; it’s about the heart of a community once filled with vibrancy, now channeling its past strength into a future filled with promise. This story unfolds through the dedication of visionaries like the late Eric Means and Jovon Burkes of the city – those whose efforts are not just revitalizing structures but are breathing new life into the spirit of Highland Park.

In the late Eric Means’ ambitious undertakings, one could see the outline of a new Highland Park rising from the remnants of economic decline. Means, whose developmental acumen was also imprinted on the Cambria Hotel in downtown Detroit, launched a transformative project for over 34 acres in Highland Park. This project envisioned turning economically stressed residential parcels into a booming industrial complex.

Sadly, at 48, Means’ untimely death two years ago could have stalled this monumental project. However, his legacy was honored and continued by his resilient wife, Tracy Means, alongside Kyle Morton of Ashley Capital. Together, they navigated the complex challenges of pushing forward a project that was in jeopardy of becoming another forgotten blueprint.

Photo: Tracy and Eric Means

The development site, straddling the line between Highland Park and Detroit and less than 10 miles from major automotive companies, became a focal point for potential revitalization. It was at the literal crossroads of every major thoroughfare in the city.

Photo: Means Logistics Park groundbreaking

The groundwork involved was Herculean—extensive demolition, abatement, and restructuring of the site’s very foundation. What once housed abandoned homes and untended lots was meticulously transformed into Means Logistics Park, a 446,500 square-foot testament to industrial innovation and community resilience.

The park itself, developed by Ashley Capital and constructed with the expertise of Oliver / Hatcher Construction, features expansive warehouse space and a modern office environment designed to attract leading industries. Its strategic location offers unparalleled access to major interstates, positioning Highland Park as a central node in Michigan’s logistical network. This transformation was highlighted by a record-setting concrete pour, laying a literal foundation that promises stability and growth.

However, the revival of Highland Park is not solely a tale of commercial renaissance; it is profoundly rooted in the residential rejuvenation led by Jovon Burkes. Burkes, a native son of Highland Park and a beacon of community engagement, extends the transformative impact beyond industrial confines. Through his organization, HCC Connection, Burkes addresses the intricate tapestry of socio-economic challenges faced by individuals emerging from the shadows of addiction.

“Through this journey, I’ve experienced some trials and tribulations, but you have to take some risks,” Burkes’ shared with the Chronicle. “In 2008, I started to purchase these homes and a lot of people looked at me like I was crazy. But these homes began to increase in value, and as the value went up, I took that financial gain and poured it back into the houses, into the community, into the block. Now, with my neighbors seeing this it has encouraged them to do more with home improvement to keep up the neighborhood like our community did back in the day.”

Understanding the fragile journey of recovery, Burkes has dedicated himself to rehabilitating the historic homes of Highland Park, particularly those on the often-overlooked “other side of the tracks.” These homes, rich with architectural heritage yet marred by years of neglect, are being restored one at a time. Burkes’ mission is deeply personal — motivated by his own familial experiences with addiction, he infuses his work with empathy and a robust commitment to community uplift.

“I grew up here, my mother grew up here, and my grandparents migrated here, so, I’m three generations in,” shared Burkes. “Highland Park is my home.”

Burkes’ holistic approach goes beyond mere physical restoration. Each home is a sanctuary, a place where individuals can rebuild their lives with dignity. His programs offer comprehensive support, blending housing solutions with counseling and life skills training, ensuring that every resident has the resources to transition successfully into a hopeful future.

Moreover, Burkes’ leadership extends into fostering personal development through his S.W.A.G. (Strain With Ambition to be Great) and ID: It’s Doable programs. These initiatives are crafted to empower young men and student-athletes, assisting them in navigating the complexities of identity, trauma, and life transitions. As a mentor, Burkes embodies the role of a community anchor, stabilizing the present while securing a brighter future for Highland Park.

Photo: Jovon Burkes and Jeremy Allen, Michigan Chronicle Executive Editor

“I’ve asked myself; how can I give back to the community,” shared Burkes. “At one point of time there were 58,000 people in Highland Park. We had some of the best businesses here and the thing I loved most about growing up here was seeing how big and beautiful these homes were. As a kid I would walk down these blocks and wished I was able to afford or live in those big homes. So, fast forward, I bought a number of homes and fixed them up. To be able to come back and purchase them and make them look good for the community has always been my goal.”

As Highland Park stands on the precipice of transformation, the intertwined roles of commercial and residential redevelopment become crucial in redefining its future. Commercial enterprises, like Means Logistics Park, are vital for a city reclaiming its economic prowess. They bring with them a surge of jobs, significantly lowering local unemployment rates and infusing the community with new economic life. This influx of opportunities not only boosts local income but also instills a sense of purpose and pride among residents. Industrial complexes serve as more than just workplaces; they are beacons of economic stability and potential growth engines for local businesses, creating a multiplying effect that revitalizes entire communities.

Equally vital is the focus on residential redevelopment, a cornerstone for nurturing the social fabric of any rising city. Jovon Burkes’ mission to rehabilitate Highland Park’s historic homes addresses a fundamental need for safe, dignified, and affordable housing. These restored homes are not merely structures; they are the building blocks of a community, offering stability and a sense of belonging to families and individuals striving for a fresh start. As these homes are rejuvenated, they erase the blight of neglect and replace it with hope, beautifying neighborhoods and encouraging a renewed community spirit. The impact is profound, fostering a healthier living environment that contributes to the overall well-being of its residents, reducing crime, and enhancing local engagement.

“It’s kind of funny that we have this 2.9-mile radius,” said Burkes. “You have that side of the tracks where I grew up and then you have this side of the tracks. Being from the other side of Manchester, you never really come on this side. So, when I was over here cleaning up and redeveloping, the people around thought I was from out of state for about a year or two. But once I explained that I was from Highland Park, I realized a few neighbors next door went to school with my father, I went to school with the neighbor’s granddaughter across the street, and many have close generational ties to the city. So, even though it’s small, it’s a big city. Once a Highland Parker-er, always a Highland Parker-er and once they found out who my family was, it was all love ever since.”

The synergy between commercial and residential redevelopment catalyzes a comprehensive urban revival. For passionate leaders like Eric Means and Jovon Burkes, the commitment to Highland Park is deeply personal. Their endeavors are not just about physical construction but about building a community where every resident has the opportunity to thrive. This dual focus ensures that economic growth and improved quality of life go hand in hand, laying a foundation for a sustainable future. As these developments progress, they invite residents to partake in their city’s rebirth, fostering a community empowered by its own resurgence and more connected through shared successes and revitalized hope. This holistic approach to urban renewal is essential, proving that when a city rises, it should lift all its people with it.

Highland Park’s resurgence, catalyzed by the visionary efforts of Eric Means and sustained through the passionate commitment of Jovon Burkes, is a narrative of redemption and renewal. It’s a community reclaiming its space, not just on the map but in the hearts and minds of its residents. It’s a reminder that the strength of a city lies not just in its infrastructure but in its people.

“A lot of times when it comes to redevelopment, it’s easy to get frustrated,” Burkes explained. “But it’s when you think about the purpose, the purpose overcomes any obstacles that you may face. The passion and focus helped me persevere through those issues.”

As Highland Park continues to rebuild and redefine itself, the work of Means and Burkes stands as a testament to the power of community-driven change. This is more than economic development; it’s a community’s heartbeat strengthening, beat by hopeful beat. Highland Park is indeed here, always has been, and through the enduring efforts of its champions, always will be—a shining example of resilience and renewal in the heart of Michigan.

About Post Author

From the Web

Skip to content