Florence Ballard, right, with the Supremes, Diane Ross, center and Mary Wilson on the left.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
New plan aims at Harmonie Park musical theme
December 5, 2007
BY BRIAN McCOLLUM and CASSANDRA SPRATLING
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
The demise of the proposed Motown Center doesn't squelch Detroit's plans to celebrate its musical legacy.
Even as Berry Gordy Jr. and city officials have quietly pulled the plug on the project at Woodward and I-75, citing a lack of funding, other Motown-related proposals are percolating -- including a plan that would transform downtown's Harmonie Park district into a musical theme park.
And at the Motown Historical Museum on West Grand Boulevard, the building where the music empire began, officials were quick to emphasize Tuesday that their institution remains in strong health. The museum, which was not directly tied to the long-running Woodward concept, is ramping up for Motown Records' 50th anniversary celebration in 2008.
The Motown Center was to be built on land that once housed Motown's second headquarters, just north of I-75 on Woodward. The $28-million project called for performances, programs and interactive exhibits.
While a vision and passion existed, said Motown Center president Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp, the money ultimately did not.
"Detroit has the greatest music story in the world. We set out to create an institution that would celebrate it. We wanted to compete and win with any music-based attraction in the world," Heidelberg-Yopp said. "The money for that kind of project is not there at this time."
She said the city and Motown executives agreed to end plans for the center as it became evident the plan was not economically feasible. "We were not interested in tying up valuable property."
But the end of the Motown Center project opens new doors, said Detroit City Councilwoman and Motown star Martha Reeves. She cited a new proposal by a private group to convert the two-block Harmonie Park district into a standing celebration of Detroit music, including Motown.
Among the proposed features are a Detroit Walk of Fame and themed restaurants showcasing artists such as Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin. The proposal involves buildings now owned by the city's Downtown Development Authority, said Brian Pastoria of Harmonie Park Music Group, which designed the plan and has begun pitching it to city officials and investors.
Reeves said she has been in several meetings about the concept, and she expects momentum to quickly pick up.
"It's coming to fruition. We've got the support," said Reeves, who declined to provide specifics. "There are a lot of people who have worked hard to remember our music. It doesn't necessarily take Mr. Gordy to make it happen."
In any case, the Motown Historical Museum pledges to continue preserving the label's legacy at its West Grand site.
"This museum has been a jewel in the Detroit community for more than 22 years," said executive director Robin Terry.
Museum officials say the 50th anniversary is getting strong support, including a $75,000 multi-year grant from the Kresge Foundation.
Contact BRIAN McCOLLUM at 313-223-4450 or CASSANDRA SPRATLING at 313-223-4580.