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Vacant housing project where Diana Ross, Supremes lived before Motown stardom coming down

A vacant Detroit housing project that was home to the Supremes before the talented trio struck gold with Motown is coming down.

Demolition of the massive Frederick Douglass Homes — known to most Detroit residents as the Brewster projects — could begin in early 2013, Mayor Dave Bing announced Thursday.

Covering several city blocks, the complex bathes part of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods in shadow and fear and is a symbol of the city's decline.

A $6.5 million federal Housing and Urban Development grant will cover the cost of tearing down the 75 condo-style apartments, two 6-story buildings and four 14-story towers. Soil remediation — the removal of any below-ground pollution — is included in that tally.

"It's going to take us, probably, the better part of a year to get everything down," the mayor told reporters at a news conference in front of the hulking complex. "This total area will be cleaned up."

The city has no set plans for redevelopment of the complex where a young Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson lived before signing with Berry Gordy's Motown Records in the early 1960s. Past proposals have included a mix of new homes and retail establishments.

"I know there's a lot of history here. I'm sure some people may even think that it shouldn't come down," Bing said. "But as we look at changing the face of Detroit, this is going to start with this.

"It's become an eyesore. We've got to think about now and our future. Our future is demolishing this."

The 2010 census confirmed what many Detroiters already knew: thousands of people have migrated from the city in recent years. Some 30,000 homes stand vacant and abandoned buildings litter the once-thriving industrial center.

The Frederick Douglass Homes was not always one of the blots on the landscape. Formerly known as the Brewster-Douglass housing project, the 661 units were completed in the early 1950s to provide affordable homes for working-class people.

The last families were vacated in 2008 by the Detroit Housing Commission as conditions in the buildings became unsafe. Though it's empty now, the complex is frequently visited by police and firefighters responding to reports of crime and arson.

By tearing the buildings down and clearing the land, the city's scant emergency resources can be deployed elsewhere, Bing said.

Adjacent to the unfenced housing project is a senior citizens complex. Some children in the surrounding neighborhood have to navigate their way past on their way to school.

"We have big concerns in regard to our children being harmed or snatched up from people who are lurking in these buildings," said Brush Park Citizens District Council chair Mona Gardner. "It's not secure."

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