Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Downtown Flint Gets All Euro

I'm not really sure what to say about Smart Cars and sidewalk cafes on Saginaw Street, or food and drink, not men's clothing, at Blackstone's. For somebody who left in '87 it's just too weird. This is no doubt a sign of something good, right? I'd feel even better it there was any sign of human life on the other side of the street — perhaps a few people hanging out in front of the old Copa — so this didn't look so much like a Hollywood backlot (see below), but let's not get too picky.

Thanks to Steve Hester of Zoom Digital Media for the photos.


  1. I've heard Blackstones is a pretty good place. I didn't know they had sidewalk seating. That's interesting.

  2. Seems to be a lot of that going on as downtowns try to reinvent themselves. Over here in Muskegon we now have a downtown shop operated by a pair of Wiccans. I don't know if that's Euro or just weird. Anything like that in Flint?

  3. Part of the lack of traffic on the other side of the street may have to do with the building construction which I believe is still blocking the sidewalk. Not to make excuses or anything...

  4. First, that's Metropolis, not Copa. the Copa was torn down. If it was still standing, you might have been able to see it to the far right of the first picture, blocking the view of the Dryden building.

    Second, there are several notable things going on along the west side of the street that you have overlooked, as so many people do. As Brian & Becky pointed out, you can just barely see the barricade blocking the sidewalk, where the Rowe building is under construction. To the right of that, the Loft opened up their Saginaw Street entrance. I believe the two buildings to the right of the Loft have also gotten a facelift recently. The Metropolis is still empty, although the Community Foundation had expressed interest in demolishing it and building a new 3 story building in its place. And to the right of that is the Community Foundation Building(s), soon to hold a pizza place and a bar & grill. Those I believe are set to open in July.

    So your criticism isn't particularly fair, given the amount of construction on the block. It still have the foot traffic it did before the department stores left, but in less than a year it should be much improved.

  5. Wicca derives from Paganism, which is one of the oldest religions in the world-far older then Christianity. How does that fit in to this post?
    I've been to Blackstones, I like it.

  6. Scottr, you're forcing me to reveal how old I am. That is the original Copa. I believe it was actually in business at that location far longer than the second, much fancier version. It later moved across the street to the old Vogue, which was recently torn down. After the Copa moved, the old spot became the Hot Rock and then Metropolis. (I may be missing a few incarnations in there.)

    But I get your point. It does seem like there are tons of positive things happening downtown. I guess it's just hard for someone in their forties to fully embrace hopeful signs in Flint. There have been lots of false dawns over the years, so I'm a little wary.

    I'm hoping this time it's the real thing and Flint will get better. In other words, I'm hoping you're right.

    1. Got your back on this one. That was the original Copa, then Hot Rocks, I believe. I only discovered this Expatriates sight about 3 months. Awesome! Thanks for doing this.

    2. Forgot to mention that the original, original Copa was called the Downtowner, I think, in the same location.

  7. Clifton, I'm sure Wiccans would be more than welcome if they can cover the rent.

  8. Outdoor cafes and Smart cars don't really turn heads here in Venice, but my head is spinning imagine my beloved hometown being so avant garde.

    I do hope the outdoor diners are safe from falling chunks of Genessee Towers.

  9. i didn't realize that was the Copa's original location. My apologies! I tend to jump to conclusions when it comes to others opinions of downtown - I've found too many people have NO clue what's happening, and assume that it's completely dead and empty, and seem to like to spread that negativity. Far from it - downtown is arguably one of the few bright spots in the county, when it comes to development. Even in GB, most everything has come to a halt.

    I now see your original post from october about the possible demo...

  10. Couldn't they put a little effort in so a fella could pull his Smart Car right up to the cafe table, a sort of modern A&W or, for the oldsters, Varsity?

    Or do they just carry those cars around with them, like a briefcase and set them next to their chairs?

    This Modern World confuses me ...

  11. "like a briefcase"!

    This blog cracks me up.

  12. Würstside WarlørdJune 2, 2009 at 5:59 PM

    First, there is nothing more annoying than internet urban planning buffs with a jag for Richard Florida and "development" lecturing others about their ignorance of downtown Flint. You may know a thing or two about pub and grubs, dorms, and overpriced condos but that doesn't make you top authority... because that is me.

    Second, the developer's plans for downtown are bound to fail because they cater to folks who largely live 10 plus miles away while ignoring thousands of Flintoids who could walk downtown. Creating a pseudo-urban utopia filled with bric a brac shops, yuppie bars, Brazilian steakhouses, and galleries brimming with crappy art has been tried before. Water Street Pavilion, Windmill Place, and a bazillion other dumb ideas have bombed when the novelty of driving in from Fenton for falafel or souvenir t-shirts wore off. A hundred or so condo dwellers, a few hundred yuptowners (who will flee come quitting time), and a smattering of dorm students (all of whom have cars, are from the area, and a party to attend in Davison) are a drop in the bucket.

    All past attempts at gentrification have failed because the developer’s goals and priorities are bass ackwards. Cost prohibitive rents, bad construction, overdevelopment and a monopoly on property will eventually kill dedicated, long-time local business owners who have struggled to survive downtown while professional expert developers have dragged their heels with their hare-brained schemes.

    I can already tell you that the exuberance for construction downtown will come to a crashing halt when the reality of overdevelopment sets in. Unless a connection is made between the residents of Flint's neighborhoods and downtown the scheme will fail.

    I, and many Flintoids have witnessed very similar scenarios time and time again. Know-it-alls from far-flung subdivisions with grand visions and loads of cash foist their plans upon Flint. When their projects wither away they blame Flintoids. You can funtasize about creating Ann Arbor or Royal Oak on Saginaw St. but it ain't gonna sustain itself when the surrounding neighborhoods are seen as nothing more than potential future investments.

    Negativity? Hell yes. For 25 years white flight white dudes (with tucked in golf shirts, suburban addresses, and halitosis) have told Flintoids what downtown needs. Their ploys ALWAYS fall short... because despite expertise their ideas are dumb.

    I may sound like Lush Rimjob saying he wants to see Barrack Hussein Obama fail, but y'know maybe I do. I can see it now. Blackstones will be hosting dollar beer mug night by winter 2010. Next will come gigs featuring bands no one wants to see. Finally, the classic last-ditch effort- hip hop night will be the final nail in the coffin of this summers place to be and be seen.

    Gordon is right, it might as well be a movie set. The folks from GB are extras. Once they get sick of the mediocre food and quasi-urban adventuring they and their Smart Cars will return to the cul de sac from whence they came.

  13. Würstside Warlørd, I'll be in Flint soon staying in a vacant house in Carriage Town (seriously...it's a long story) and I demand we meet up for a few drinks. At Blackstone's. I don't really have any "suburban" clothing, but I can pick some up at AmVets on Clio Road.

  14. Damn, Würstside Warlørd is a tough nut.

  15. I can see your point WW. It does feel like Flint has been there and done that and demolished it as well. But I guess with the redevelopment of the Durant, it feels different this time.

    That's why people from Flint are so intriguing... visionaries, but with one foot on the ground because you know it's going to topple. It certainly provides a healthy sense of humor (being from Flint, that is).

    Still, I challenge anyone who knows what doesn't work, to tell us what does.

  16. Actually Wurtside, The cars BOTH belong to longtime Flint Residents Jerry Preston of the Flint Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Other belongs to Steve and Rosanne Heddy, Longtime Flintoids.
    There's always a naysayer-thats you today. While some of your observations hold true, what do you expect folks in Flint to do? Give up? roll Over and simply quit? It's not in our blood as history has shown over and over again. When One is not here, as I'm guessing you are not, it's hard to see the whole Picture.
    While many communities are trying to figure out what to do with any goverment funds-Flint has momentum in a sound direction and will continue the momentum with any assistance we recieve. After all, we lost most of our jobs YEARS ago and while others are reeling from recent job losses Flint is beyond that point. We have to dust ourselves off and get on with things.

  17. > Still, I challenge anyone who knows what doesn't work, to tell us what does.

    Maybe we should have gone with the brief plan to re-purpose the AutoWorld facilities plus the Hyatt, Durant and Holiday Inn as a medium-scale convention/event center.

    The physical facilities mostly existed. The money existed. There's no shortage of land and parking downtown to have provided expansion space for UM-F *and* a convention center next door. We had Bill Hanbury here for a brief time, indicating that Bill White must have briefly thought it was a good idea. But apparently we lost our collective nerve.

    You can do a lot with optimism plus skills plus energy plus customers plus resources. Without the first, though, the other four aren't worth squat.

  18. Würstside WarlørdJune 3, 2009 at 3:25 PM

    How 'bout a 40 of Black Label on Stone St. instead?

    Amvets closed 15 years ago. If you don't own any golf shirts I'm sure Roca Wear or Apple Bottoms brand clothing will suffice... as long as you're white. Black dudes in golf shirts are probably tolerated by yUptowners. Coogi brand togs? Probably not.

    I gotta disagree with Steve though. Flint has a long and storied history of giving up, abandoning hope, and saying fug it. Sure, some folks hold on to hope, but most of those are crackpots who don't know any better.

    As far as being a naysayer, au contrere. I'm a yeasayer. Throw your support behind the longtime small business owners- the people who didn't need yUptown or developers or Richard Florida or UMF to tell them it was okay to open up shop downtown. These folks got heart- y'know that old time Flint spirit you're talking about.
    The recent downtown converts seem to be first and foremost "creative classholes" looking to cash in. I'm not saying they're all black-hearted bastards hell bent on profit at all costs, it just seems like their overwhelming motivation is the almighty dollar.

  19. As tempting as it is to jump on Rush....I mean Würstside Warbler, he might be right. If they can't figure out how to include the local rank and file in a new downtown, it can't last. However, I say never stop trying, sooner or later something will click.

  20. Würstside WarlørdJune 3, 2009 at 3:55 PM

    Okay bub. Challenge met. Here is what will work. Immigrants and/or refugees. Preferably Muslim with large families. I've preached this for years but apparently the thought of immigrants living in Flint either seems unrealistic or threatening to some. They probably aren't gonna patronize tattoo parlors, cafes, or record stores but they will create thriving communities. Remeber St. John St.?

    Making Flint a playground for suburban tourists will fail. We need hard working families with lots of kids who will see the worst Flint has to offer as an opportunity. No yuptowner is gonna send his kid to a Flint Community School. Afghans fleeing war will look upon free schools and cheap property as a way to improve their lives. They'll put down roots. Churches will become mosques, and shuttered party stores halal markets.

    Better yet these folks don't usually partake in illicit drug use. Plus, do you think someone from Baghdad is gonna be intimidated by the Pierson Hood Gang? Besides, its the least we could do after our government has caused so much havoc the world over.

    It has been done before time and time again. It is working now in Lewiston, Maine. Check out the article below.


  21. And here I thought AmVets would be a survivor.

    Email me to plan the Stone Street 40 conference. I'll be staying nearby.

  22. I do seem to recall you mentioning that before, WW. However, immigrants (Mexican or otherwise) will only come if there are jobs here. Cheap housing isn't enough.

    The factories were once that alluring job to get people to move to Flint. Am not sure that will work anymore.

    The only other people I know who are willing to live in fixer-uppers are students. They are only a transient temporary solution, but it seems to me that is what the current urban developers are catering to. That, and the almighty dollar of course.

  23. Euro Town? 2 SMART Cars and 1 (crappy) outdoor seating area doesn't really qualify for an ET tag. Now if I suddenly saw bike lanes, racks and rentals and better forms of public transit, more efficient housing, and an actual grocery store, it'd be a different story. Also, I didn't think that Europe tears down old buildings at the rate that the City of Flint does, don't they usually restore them?

    Würstside Warlørd, do you live in Flint? I'm just asking because I happen to agree with your standpoint. I think this gentrification process is another Auto World, which I'm a little too young to completely remember but old enough to understand the outcome. You can't just throw in 5-6 new restaurants (with mediocre food) and 4-6 "urban lofts" and call it a comeback, I still see major business developments all over Mundy Township, GB, and other places. Shouldn't we be focusing on getting this offices to move to DT?

  24. As a lifelong resident within walking distance of downtown, the main thing that would bring me downtown is a grocery store!

  25. I've been rallying for Dales to move back downtown for awhile. They started out as healthfood (anyone remember the "healthy" caramel corn), but are pretty much grocery now.

    If Flint wants people to live downtown they do need a decent grocery store.

  26. Say what you will about Uptown development, but downtown is the busiest I've seen it in a long time. You actually have to wait for traffic during the day when driving, and at night... you can't walk across Saginaw at any time like you could have a few years ago, there's actually some traffic instead of tumble weeds.

    It's really easy to be critical and sit at home while you do nothing to improve the community of Flint, but to become pro-active, patronize local businesses, and attempt to DO something positive is a hell of a lot more difficult. But I can certainly tell you that ONLY one of the two options will actually change the community and make it a better place.

    But pessimists, go ahead and continue the internet rants, I'm sure it will solve all of Flint's woes.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.