Centering Education at the Heart of Community
A landmark cradle-to-career educational campus anchoring neighborhood transformation.
As Detroit’s Downtown and Midtown cores have continued their transformative growth, city stakeholders have shifted in recent years to focus on an equally robust investment strategy for its neighborhoods, in order to spur truly inclusive growth for Detroit’s residents. U3 identified the neighborhoods of the Livernois-McNichols district in northwest Detroit as strong opportunities for a neighborhood-based anchor institution strategy. The district featured two college campuses, as well as a mix of neighborhoods that included some of the hardest-hit from the recession as well as those with Detroit’s highest tax bases.
In 2016, accelerating a neighborhood strategy became even more critical, as Marygrove College faced mounting fiscal and operational pressures that threatened to shut down its 53-acre campus. Recognizing the devastating impact that closure would have on the neighborhood, the Kresge Foundation engaged U3 Advisors to explore strategies that would preserve the campus and its legacy. Given Marygrove’s history in education and teacher training, innovative education emerged as the natural focal point, which also aligned with neighborhood goals of supporting families. We worked with stakeholders and researched best practices to define a vision for a precedent-setting P-20, cradle-to-career education campus. High-quality education would serve as the heart of neighborhood development, while also infusing the campus with renewed investment and opportunity.
Working closely with Kresge and Marygrove, our team facilitated planning efforts that led to a groundbreaking partnership between the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the University of Michigan School of Education, Starfish Family Services, the Kresge Foundation, and the Marygrove campus. Throughout the planning period, we helped the partners identify priorities and coordinate decision-making across a wide range of school planning areas, from curriculum alignment, to enrollment catchment area policies, to leadership and staff selection. U3 eventually drafted the long-term partnership agreement that guides oversight and areas of joint responsibility. At full capacity, the early childhood center and K-12 school are projected to serve more than 1,000 Detroit children and their families, primarily drawn from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Simultaneously, U3 developed initial campus planning and real estate strategies, recognizing the need for a campus planning framework that could support both the P-20 mission and financial sustainability. As Marygrove College wound down and eventually closed in 2019, we supported the launch of the Marygrove Conservancy, a new non-profit that would steward the campus land and mission. U3 proposed staffing and board formation options, drafted its mission and vision, and supported strategic planning. The Conservancy has since been actively expanding campus leasing and programming, including launching a Community Impact Incubator for neighborhood-serving small businesses and nonprofits.
The campus transformation is now well underway, following the launch of the School at Marygrove high school in the fall of 2019 and the 2021 opening of the Marygrove Early Education Center and its state-of-the-art facility. Kresge has committed a total of $75 million to the overall effort, the largest-known philanthropic commitment centered on education in a Detroit neighborhood. This bold, ambitious scale reflects the critical role that investment in Detroit’s neighborhoods – and moreover, in its children – plays in the city’s future.