Sugar Hill Arts DistrictDetroit, MI
It’s official: Midtown Detroit, Inc. (MDI) holds the keys to 92 E. Forest. We are now the owners of a historic church building, as well as a dream to transform this space into a boutique performing arts center. Many have asked us, why a performing arts center? Part of that answer can be found in the past.
Sugar Hill has its roots in the Historic Paradise Valley, which was the center of African American commerce and entertainment during the early part of the 20th century. By 1910, the community consisted of over 5,000 people and grew rapidly from there as the auto industry in Detroit accelerated. Music and entertainment was one of the largest attractions to the area during this time, and it was one of the few districts where white and black could mingle. By the mid-1930s, Paradise Valley was firmly established as a distinct neighborhood in Detroit and remained until the urban renewal projects of the 1940s through the 1970s.
In the late 1940s, the “Street of Music” emerged along two blocks of John R between Forest and Canfield. The Street of Music, also known as Sugar Hill, was dominated by three show bars: the Flame Show Bar, along with the nearby Frolic Show Bar and the Chesterfield Lounge, turning John R into a Las Vegas-like strip, replacing Hastings Street and Paradise Valley. Sugar Hill became the center of entertainment in Detroit, and the Flame was the place to be.
By building a small performing arts center, we’re paying tribute to this past golden era in Detroit—a time known for its energetic celebration of the arts and music. At the same time, we are trying to resurrect the spirit of this past era and bring a level of vibrancy and activity within a contemporary context that will help create a more viable social and cultural hub. We are also trying to create balance—this emerging arts district is already well represented by the visual arts with the presence of MOCAD and the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. We hope that this new community arts center can be equipped to present theatre, dance, music, and other collaborative arts performances—a space that can weather all trends and markets, cater to a variety of diverse audiences, and yet be something that we can support over the next 10 years.
In our conversations with stakeholders, residents and business owners in the neighborhood, many of them believe that a multi-genre arts space like this would do well in Detroit—that there is already a built-in audience hungry for this type of programming. We now want to test this theory. MDI is now currently accepting proposals from consulting firms that specialize in arts and cultural facility planning and market analysis that will help guide us through the earliest stages of conception and planning for this space. We are well aware that arts facilities are technically complex, expensive and time-consuming to build and maintain. Within the next few months, it is our goal to contract with a firm that has a range of experience who can help us determine whether our goals are even feasible for this space; and if not, then to help us refocus the vision for this promising arts space.