Demolition on the Jimmy Prentis Morris Building on the A. Alfred Taubman campus in Oak Park will begin by the end of the year to make way for a new community building, according to Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit President Larry Wolfe and top Federation executives.
Construction is expected to begin next spring, with completion slated for 12-18 months later. Throughout this time, security, landscaping and other environmental concerns will be maintained on the campus, as it has been since JPM closed. The campus also is home to three Jewish Senior Life senior apartment buildings and the JSL administrative building.
Amid much community protest, the JPM branch of the Jewish Community Center was closed Aug. 31, 2015, to help the JCC recover from longtime financial woes — revealed in a 2014 audit after an accounting crisis the year before — that amounted to a $6 million deficit.
A week before the JPM closure, Federation and the United Jewish Foundation, Federation’s real estate arm, which owns the building, announced an anonymous donor had committed to building a new, smaller building on the property that would be a center for Jewish life in the area. A concept for the building’s use included Jewish agencies, community spaces for programming and events, and possibly a pool.
“The donor is very enthusiastic and can’t wait for the shovel to go in the ground,” Wolfe said.
One of the donor’s stipulations, Federation leaders have said, is that the building cannot be a drain on community financial resources. A pool is costly and, though vendors were sought to carry that cost, no plan was financially viable, so there will be no pool at this time. There is space on the property to build a pool if the financial situation were to change, the leaders said, adding they didn’t want to wait any longer to move forward with the new building.
“It’s taken a long time, but it’s been a priority for the Federation and Foundation,” said Scott Kaufman, Federation CEO.
Some of the delay came from planning the new structure, securing tenants and ensuring that the facility remains financially sustainable while meeting the needs of the surrounding Jewish community, according to Federation.
Four Jewish agencies or organizations are expected to have offices in the building. Negotiations are happening now as possible tenants assess their needs and make business decisions about the move. For some, it may mean relocating; for others, JPM may be a satellite location. Federation would not disclose names of possible tenants.
“We are now building to suit, rather than hoping they will come,” Kaufman said. “It will be done right.”
The JCC does plan to offer a range of programming, consistent with its efforts to establish a “JCC without walls” model that serves the entire Jewish community. The building will also offer a comfortable environment for local residents to socialize and enjoy informal activities.
There will be no gym, mainly because of nearby affordable fitness centers, but spaces can be used for yoga or other fitness classes. And there will be no restaurant. Vending machines will offer kosher dairy products only. The playground near the building will remain open during demolition and construction, and the Jimmy Prentis Morris name will be retained on the new building.
“We are exceptionally fortunate to have the opportunity to create a new and lasting Jewish facility to serve our community,” Kaufman says. “We have never given up on the vision of a new facility in Oak Park that embodies the warm, communal spirit of JPM and serves the needs of the surrounding area.”
By Keri Guten Cohen, Story Development Editor