DETROIT, MI – After facing the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants and businesses in Detroit’s Greektown are preparing to reinvent themselves once again as a new jail and court complex set to open next year will be drawing customers away from the downtown area, The Detroit News (TDN) reported on March 4.
Owner of The Greek, Christina Hapipis, “whose family has owned the former Plaka Cafe for 31 years, said after the lunchtime customers head north, Greektown will have to reinvent itself — again,” TDN reported.
Meanwhile, more changes are in store for the Greektown area, as “new development projects that include condominiums, a University of Michigan tech school and streetscape improvements promise to transform the area that's already seen more than a century of changes,” TDN reported.
"We're going to lose the lunchtime crowd, but hopefully we'll get a different crowd," said Hapipis, who reopened the family restaurant under the new name, The Greek, in 2018 after a $750,000 renovation, TDN reported.
“It's a concern with the jails and courts leaving, but I'm not really worried," she told TDN. “Greektown has gone through changes before, and I'm sure we'll do it again with the new things coming in.”
The Greektown Neighborhood Partnership “has a plan that aims to offset the loss of the courts and jails by attracting a new crowd,” director Melanie Markowicz said, TDN reported.
“In September 2019, the organization released ‘Greektown Neighborhood Framework Vision,’ a 256-page report that called for adding public parks, residential units, retail and increased walkability to the area,” TDN reported.
“We knew the jail and courts would be moving, so we came together as a community to plan for the future," Markowicz told TDN. “We have a development plan which addresses many of the concerns. We want to incorporate the heritage of the district into new development so that it feels cohesive and connected.”
Among the development plans expected to draw newcomers is a new 16-story, mixed-use building called The Exchange, with construction set to begin in the fall and “completed by January, making it the first residential space in the neighborhood in decades,” TDN reported.
“There used to be residents in Greektown, in parcels in the north where you see parking lots,” Markowicz told TDN. “But a lot of those places were demolished in the '60s for the public safety buildings.”
“A new ‘pedestrian plaza’ is being planned at the intersection on Randolph Street between Monroe and Gratiot, which Markowicz said will serve as a gateway to Greektown, which they hope will draw foot traffic from Campus Martius, the Lions and Tigers stadiums and other nearby attractions,” TDN reported, adding that “the Greektown Neighborhood Partnership received a grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Legacy Funds for Design and Access of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to develop the pedestrian plaza.”
The organization is also “soliciting design concepts from citizens,” which they discussed during a virtual public Zoom meeting on March 3.
“Compared to the city as a whole, downtown Detroit attracts a younger, working-age population," the Greektown Neighborhood Framework Vision report said, TDN reported, adding that “entertainment will be an important part of Greektown’s identity going forward.”
Hapipis “agrees with the strategy,” and told TDN that “this isn't the old Greektown, with all the independent restaurants, but I think making this an entertainment district, with the restaurants as a part of that, will bring in a younger crowd.”
Greektown has undergone many changes over the years from being an enclave of German immigrants in the 1830s to the arrival of Greek immigrants at the start of the 20th century. The Greeks “stayed for about 20 years before they too moved elsewhere,” TDN reported, noting that “however, they didn't relocate their restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries.”
“When the Greektown Casino opened inside Trapper's Alley in 2000, it further altered the area's vibe — and the casino restaurants cut into the independent eateries' business,” Hapipis said, TDN reported, adding that “the openings nearby of Comerica Park in 2000 and Ford Field in 2002 also affected the area's character.”
"The casino didn't help us," Hapipis told TDN. "But we survived, and before the pandemic, things were booming. The stadiums came along, and Greektown changed from what it had been, which was a bunch of family restaurants. We'll just have to change again.”
Hapipis said that “while she hopes to attract a new crowd, she doesn't think she'll lose all of her lunchtime customers after the courts and jails move north,” TDN reported.
“We've made a lot of friends here over the years, and I think a lot of our loyal customers will get in their cars and drive a few miles, even if they don't work here anymore," she told TDN. “I think we'll be OK.”