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Detroit's Carr Center, a home for black arts and culture, forced to find new location

The Carr Center's current home in Detroit's Harmonie Park.
Carr Center
via Facebook
The Carr Center's current home in Detroit's Harmonie Park.

A prominent Detroit arts organization is losing its home in a downtown neighborhood it helped revitalize.

The Carr Center has called a historic building in Detroit’s Harmonie Park area home since 2009.

The non-profit arts organization is focused on promoting and celebrating African and African-American arts and culture.

It’s been a vibrant spot, but struggled financially.

And earlier this year, it lost a bid to buy its current building in a rapidly-changing business district.

Carr Center President Oliver Ragsdale says that will hurt a whole community—from local artists and performers who use the space as a work hub, to those who attend the jazz, dance, and other educational programs and performances the Center has hosted.

“While we’re the focal point, there’s lots of others who are going to be impacted,” Ragsdale said.

The Carr Center had tried to the buy the building even before the Detroit Economic Development Corporation solicited bids for the site, recognizing that “we could not continue to sustain and get greater earned income if we didn’t grow. And growth meant having control of the building, being able to control revenues that came into the building, and being able to expand,” Ragsdale said.

When that got no response, the group submitted a $2.5 million offer during the formal bid process. That offer included the cost of back rent the Carr Center owed, Ragsdale said.

Still, funding remained uncertain, and the DEGC rejected the proposal as “problematic.” It hasn’t made details of the winning bid public yet.

Ragsdale said the DEGC gave the Carr Center the news earlier this year. He called it “devastating.”

“We have invested significantly in this area,” he said. "When we moved into this area, most of the storefronts were empty. You can think about downtown Detroit in 2009. And we began to make things happen here.”

“We had helped to make the area vibrant, and real estate prices had gone up and things were happening down here, and we were no longer going to be a part of it.”

Ragsdale says the Carr Center hopes to move on early next year with the city’s help, but there are no firm plans yet.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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