Conners Creek Power Plant: BUILD LAB — Tactical Preservation for Detroit’s Industrial Legacy
Photo Credit: f11photo / Shutterstock
Tactical Preservation for Detroit’s Industrial Legacy
At this year’s BUILD Conference in Detroit, the Urban and Regional Policy Program (URP) of The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) organized, in partnership with the City of Detroit and DTE Energy, a BUILD Lab: “Tactical Preservation for Detroit’s Industrial Legacy.” The Lab leveraged an international network of 42 policymakers, architects, urban planners, and practitioners to reimagine one particular space in the Conners Creek Power Plant and brainstorm on-site tactical preservation strategies that could spur further development throughout the main buildings and the site in general.
Conners Creek Power Plant, is a DTE Energy-owned property in Detroit’s Lower East Side near the historic Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. The 75-acre site used to be home to a coal-fired power plant with nine units that fueled development in the city. When construction of the low-pressure side known as the “Seven Sisters” was completed in 1915, it doubled the generating capacity of the Detroit Edison company. The plant was expanded in 1951 with the construction of the high-pressure side known as the “Two Brothers,” but due to increasing energy needs farther from the city and the construction of new plants at the time, production ended in 1988.
The Seven Sisters were demolished in 1996 and the Two Brothers were converted to gas prior to decommissioning in 2008. The Two Brothers boiler house remains standing today and offers 400,000 square feet of redevelop-able space on about 45 acres of riverfront property.
As city planners, policymakers, and developers explore strategies to direct iconic places to new productive and sustainable uses, the task can often seem daunting. Project timelines can span an average of 15–20 years, from conception to project build-out, as might well be the case for Conners Creek Power Plant. The projects’ complexity, the collaboration needed, and the costs involved for such endeavors can be beyond the reach of municipalities and private stakeholders, making short-term social, environmental, and economic responses more challenging.
For this reason, tactical preservation was spearheaded as a means to strengthen attraction to the site, and demonstrate how small-scale, incremental, targeted adaptive reuse can spur further development. The city of Detroit is a place of iconic buildings and Conners Creek Power Plant certainly contributes to Detroit’s undisputed character, with multiple tangible assets and a cultural narrative rooted in the neighborhood.
Conners Creek Power Plant is in Detroit’s Lower East Side, near the historic Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. “This area is Detroit’s next great place; a welcoming community for all Detroiters to live, work, and play. Building on its prominent location and rich cultural heritage, this area is ready and positioned to become a free and open waterfront for all,” said Kimberly Driggins of Detroit’s Department of Planning and Development.
How can this resource be preserved and activated for new purposes? Tactical preservation offers some possibilities to move forward.