Life Remodeled brings its community hub vision to the Denby High neighborhood

A group of people walk down the hallway of a building that will house Life Remodeled’s community hub in the Denby High School neighborhood.
A tour through the halls of the now-closed Winans Academy of Performing Arts on July 11, 2023. Life Remodeled has acquired the building and will turn it into a community hub. (Quinn Banks/BridgeDetroit)

Months after a local nonprofit’s proposal to turn the former Cooley High School into a community hub was rejected by the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the organization has found another home for its project on the city’s east side. 

Life Remodeled announced during a Tuesday news conference that it’s acquiring the Winans Academy of Performing Arts and turning the 7.55-acre site into a neighborhood opportunity hub for the Denby community. The organization repurposes vacant school buildings to revitalize neighborhoods with the help and cooperation of community groups.

The news comes after the DPSCD school board rejected multiple offers from Life Remodeled for the Cooley building in March amid concerns over the proposed sale price and sufficient commitments for the buildings and land. Life Remodeled planned to house various nonprofits at the Cooley site, including a pediatric mental health center, vocational college, and after school programs. 

“This is huge for Whittier and for the Denby (Neighborhood) Alliance,” Kenzie Current, a business liaison for the city’s District 4, said during a Tuesday building tour. “It’s a lot of great things coming this way, and I’m excited to have been a part of such a passionate community and business community.” 

Life Remodeled COO Diallo Smith responded by recalling an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go by yourself. If you want to go far, go together.”

Winans Academy, a K-8 charter school, closed its doors after this past school year, said Brandi Haggins, vice president of opportunity hubs for Life Remodeled. Residents like Sandra Turner-Handy, the president of the Denby Neighborhood Alliance, are excited to see the building’s new chapter. She talked during the news conference about the nonprofit’s previous projects in Denby. In 2016, the organization worked with Denby High School students to enhance Skinner Park, and volunteers removed blight on 303 blocks and boarded up 362 vacant houses. 

“Together we will bring a new asset to our community that is going to benefit residents no matter what age, and that is what we need in this community in order to keep transforming and moving forward,” Turner-Handy said.

Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert said Turner-Handy was the first person he met in the neighborhood in 2016, and he was quickly impressed by her work in Denby. However, he noticed she wasn’t doing the work alone and that she had a team behind her. 

“This was a community that was united, that had its stuff together, that had incredible leaders all throughout a four-and-a-half square-mile area,” Lambert said. “One of the greatest strengths you have going for you in this community is the Denby Neighborhood Alliance that has been alive and well.”

Lambert then referenced the failed Cooley deal, saying he was devastated when plans didn’t work out. 

“I told our team, ‘It’s probably going to take about a year before something like that materializes because real estate deals like this, they don’t happen that quickly,’” he said. “And when Pastor (Marvin) Winans reached out and told me the address of this location, immediately, my heart started beating before I even saw what the building looked like because of the address, because of the Denby community.” 

From school building to community hub

The building, located at 9740 McKinney Street, has served the Denby community for decades. The space was the former home of Dominican High School and was in operation from 1940 to 2005. Winans, a pastor and gospel artist, then moved into the site and founded the academy. 

After the deal with DPSCD fell through, Winans reached out to Life Remodeled about repurposing the academy building, Haggins told BridgeDetroit. The organization then purchased the school. Haggins did not disclose the amount. 

The neighborhood hub will be similar to the organization’s Durfee Innovation Society on the west side, offering after school programs, community resources and health services. Haggins said Life Remodeled will continue the tradition of the Winans Academy by providing arts and culture programming. 

“As we talk to the community, we’re reaching out to different partners to try to recruit them into the building,” she said. “So, we want to make sure that we’re bringing in what the community actually wants to see.” 

Haggins said while the academy kept the building in good condition, Life Remodeled is planning to renovate and add its style to the building. There is no opening date for the hub yet, but Life Remodeled plans to have the facility reach near full capacity by the end of 2025. The building is more than 87,000 square feet, and at least 50,000 square feet is expected to be leased by nonprofit partners. 

Haggins is a lifelong westsider with family on the east side and said she’s excited that Life Remodeled will have locations on both sides of Detroit. 

“To me, the more places we are, the more the community can get served,” she said.

Endless possibilities

One of the residents in attendance for the news conference was Norma Danzie. The 69-year-old is a member of the Denby alliance and has lived in the community for 25 years. Danzie said she worked with Life Remodeled in 2016 and is glad to have them back in the neighborhood. 

“When they were at Durfee, they remodeled and did all kinds of things with that building,” she said. “The kids in this neighborhood really need a place that’s close. We don’t have a recreation center in this immediate area, and I’m hoping that there’ll be chances for them to get into different activities and keep them busy and occupied.” 

Alonzo Marable, 56, has also worked with Life Remodeled before, volunteering with cleanup projects in Denby, Osborn, Durfee, and Cody Rogue. Marable, who now lives in Rosedale Park, grew up in the neighborhood, graduating from Denby High and opening his business, Ultimate Party Supply and Rental, on Whittier Avenue. 

Marable hopes the new hub will bring the community back to the way it used to be when he was a child. 

“I’ve seen the work that they’ve done, and I believe in them,” he said. 

Micah Walker is a reporter for BridgeDetroit, where she covers arts, culture, and education. Contact Micah at mwalker@bridgedetroit.com

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