CORRECTION: This story on page 1 of yesterday’s Daily misspelled the name of a University spokesman. He should have been identified as Joe Serwach.

Sarah Royce
University President Mary Sue Coleman speaks at the new Detroit Center at Orchestra Place in Detroit yesterday. (TOMMASO GOMEZ/Daily)

 

 

DETROIT – The University has returned to the city where it was founded almost 200 years ago.

The University’s Detroit Center, which opened last night, will host the 100-plus programs the University runs that involve Detroit. The center is composed mostly of office and common meeting space, but will also provide classrooms. Its space totals 10,500 square feet, which is significantly smaller than most University buildings such as Angell Hall, which has about 252,000 square feet.

University President Mary Sue Coleman said the center is intended to serve as a “nucleus for the many different activities we have underway in the city’s neighborhoods, schools and businesses.”

Programs that will be run out of the center include the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning’s annual Detroit Design Charette, which requires 60 students come to Detroit for four days each January, and an effort to provide the city with wireless Internet by Social Work Prof. Larry Gant.

“I’m in closer proximity to the people I serve,” said Addell Anderson, program director of the University’s Americorps program, which runs several public service programs in Detroit. “Instead of having to travel, I can monitor programs from here.”

The center is located on the ground floor of Orchestra Place at the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Woodward Avenue, a location Coleman deemed symbolic: Detroit, which is often defined by its multiculturalism, is represented by King, she said, and the University is represented by Woodward, which bears the namesake of University founder Augustus Woodward.

The University is renting the space at a cost of $180,000 per year on a five-year lease. The University also spent about $300,000 to renovate and equip the space, which was formerly a restaurant. The provost’s office contributed about half of the $520,000 cost.

At yesterday’s opening reception, Regent Martin Taylor (D-Grosse Pointe Farms) and former Provost Paul Courant stressed that the center was a long time coming.

Coleman agreed, but added, “I think we had to get to a stage where all the stars were aligned. I also think you have to do it right.”

Deans of various colleges were the first to suggest the center to the central administration five years ago, Coleman said.

The center will benefit both the University and the city, said Charlene Turner, president of the Michigan Neighborhood partnership, which addresses human needs in Detroit and Dearborn.

Anderson said some people in the city look at the University as an ivory tower, adding that the reverse is also true.

“There’s a perception that Detroit’s unreachable, like it’s a different country,” Anderson said. “The center will be a more visible presence.”

At yesterday’s opening reception, though, homeless people walking just outside of the center down Woodward Avenue provided a stark contrast to the University faculty, administrators and students dining on refined food and talking about the difference they would make in the lives of Detroit citizens.

Detroit was recently ranked the poorest city in the country by a U.S. Census Bureau report. More than a third of its residents live under the poverty level.

Johnson said everyone in Detroit should be granted two things at birth: a birth certificate and a certificate of hope from the University because of the opportunities it offers.

School of Education senior Kaellen Weld-Wallis was born in Detroit. She maintains a realistic view of the city’s poverty and its problems, but said the University could help its residents solve them.

“The times are hard, and therefore the timing is perfect,” Weld-Wallis said. “There is hope for my home.”

Coleman said the physical presence of the University in the city will also aid recruiting and increase applications from residents of the city, calling the center a “great recruiting tool.”

Building the center is part of a push to globalize the University, Coleman said. The efforts also included Coleman’s delegation to China last summer, which established partnerships with Chinese universities, and the Michigan in Washington program, which encourages undergraduates to spend a semester in Washington D.C.

Coleman said globalization is especially important post-Hurricane Katrina.

“(The hurricane) is a distressing but critical example of why University of Michigan students should be in our major cities, studying, researching, and being immersed in the many ways the government, the private sector and non-profit organizations address the issues that figuratively and literally affect our lives,” she said.

Other property the University owns in the city includes the Detroit Admissions Office, the Legal Assistance for Urban Communities office that the law school owns and the Detroit Rackham Building, which has been leased to Wayne State University since the early 1990s. The University leased Rackham to WSU because it did not have any use for it, and did not want to pay to renovate the 60-year-old building, University spokesman Joel Serwach said.

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