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Posted on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti advocate presents idea for $2 million addition to the Parkridge Community Center

By Tom Perkins

John Barfield envisions something much greater for the Parkridge Community Center on Ypsilanti’s southside.

This month, the native Ypsilanti businessman and area resident made public his idea for a $2 million renovation and expansion that will turn the center into an African-American art museum, nonprofit headquarters and educational center.

He presented his plans to city council and said, with council’s approval, construction could begin as soon as June. The city owns the property, and council would have to approve an expansion.

Barfield is owner of the Bartech Group in Livonia and grew up across the street from Parkridge. His private company generates an estimated $30 million per year in revenue.

He said he wants to share some of the success he has had with that neighborhood.

“I began to think of what we could to do to make Parkridge more than a place for kids to play games and I started thinking about an educational and cultural center,” he said. “It’s a very impoverished part of town … and we want to work to try to do something to uplift that community.”

The center would see a 12,000 square foot expansion, of which about half would be occupied by offices for the Work Skills Corporation. Work Skills is a nonprofit with a core mission of providing employment services, though it also provides education opportunities to at-risk youths and a variety of other services.

The center would feature a museum dedicated to African-American art and named after Grand Rapids-based artist Paul Collins. That would include rotating exhibits with work from partnerships with the Charles M. Wright Museum in Detroit, the Toledo Museum of Art and Grand Rapids Art Museum among others.

The Parkridge Center also is working to establish a partnership with the Smithsonian, which Barfield said is in the process of opening its own African-American museum and is looking for partners to share its collection.


John Barfield discusses a $2 million renovation with City Council.

Tom Perkins | For

In addition, Barfield and his wife hold a large collection of Collins’ work. The couple paid for Collins to work in Africa for a year in exchange for half the artwork he produced. The 73-piece collection is valued at $435,000, Barfield said, and Collins also is donating work to the museum.

“An art collection like this is a magnetic thing,” Barfield said. “It brings people and opportunities to the community that might not otherwise come. It will be world class.”

The building will also include an educational center and performing arts centers, Barfield said, and will be transformed into a modern structure. He said he is also considering a large greenhouse where kids can learn to grow food.

“We want to make it something that will make people stop and stare when they drive by,” he said. “We want to create a national model that demonstrates what people in depressed communities might be able to do to to lift themselves up by the bootstraps."

Beyond the building, plans call for more hardwood trees in the adjacent park and trees that provide a canopy.

So far, Barfield has given a gift of $200,000, which Collins and Work Skills CEO Rod Johnson have matched, providing the project with a start of $600,000.

The remaining estimated $1.4 million could be raised through a number channels, Barfield said. Bartech manages temporary work forces for large corporations such as Verizon, General Motors and DTE Energy. Barfield is well-connected in the corporate world, and he said he is confident he could raise the remaining money through individual donations or donations from corporate foundations, for example.

“We will demonstrate to them the need for this community and ask them to help us complete the project,” Barfield said. “The strength of our own financial commitment will make it easier to raise the funds.”

Barfield said the center would expand east where two private residences currently stand. He said neighbors have agreed to sell their properties, and Barfield is asking the city to demolish and clear the properties.

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said Barfield has previously asked to expand the center on two separate occasions, but had always wanted to expand into the park. That prevented plans from moving forward.

Schreiber said the presentation was the first council or city staff had heard of the newest idea. He said there are still zoning considerations, and he would like to see the city's Parks and Recreation Commission involved, but said he wants to see Parkridge improved.

“I think turning it into an art museum is an interesting idea,” Schreiber said. “I appreciate Mr. Barfield’s interest in investing in the spot where he grew up, and hopefully in the end we can up with something everybody is excited about and will be an additional attraction for Ypsilanti.”



Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

We at the Toledo Museum of Art learned of our "partnership" with John Barfield and this project via a daily Google alert for the Museum's name. While community-based art, and perhaps this project, are good things, we at the Toledo Museum of Art have had no discussions with anyone from Ypsilanti about exhibition partnership or exchanges. We have no direct tie to this proposal and no ability to judge its merit. We do appreciate the many loyal art lovers who travel from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to visit the Toledo Museum of Art on a regular basis and look forward to welcoming all to see our world-class art collection and temporary exhibits, free of charge.

joe golder

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

Thank You Mr. Barfield for your persistence. No one likes an idea the first few times they here it. This is a great opportunity to enrich peoples knowledge of African American history. With things the way they are and will be ( cuts in education, gas prices, less people having transportation ) it will be a great local place for this region to visit. It will be another much needed destination for the city! This is the kind of project city and council should be working on.

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:32 p.m.

"Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said Barfield has previously asked to expand the center on two separate occasions, but had always wanted to expand into the park. That prevented plans from moving forward." hunh?!? let the man improve ypsilanti! can we interest mr. barfield in the waterstreet area...?

David Rhoads

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

I knew as soon as I read the headline, that John Barfield would be the person behind the project. I first worked with John in the late 70s, when his company won the bid to do maintenance work for the Ann Arbor locations of Bechtel Power Corp. John and his wife, both care about their community and are willing to contribute to the betterment of us all. Thank you John and I wish you well, David Rhoads


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

Does anyone else's heart sink to hear of the development of more non-profit enterprises in a city that needs jobs? With the kind of money and connections Mr. Barfield apparently has, maybe he can afford to start a business that loses money but keeps employing people?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 6:21 p.m.

Your comments made me think - glad you made that point. I would never get in the way of a person donating money towards a good cause with the intent of improving the community, but you are right, Ypsi needs so much more than this type of development. Non-profits are all the rage in small business these days and students graduating are wanting to start them at numbers greater than ever in recent history - but these projects are band-aids to the real stimulus Ypsilanti needs. Should he start a business to take a loss to help others, as you said? Or should he start a business to try and make money and empower others and the community and let it lead to more things? No easy answers but a non-profit is not the elixir Ypsi needs to cure its ills.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

The single most important thing Ypsilanti can do is to break the isolation on the southside. Not only allowing, but actually supporting this project in whatever way possible seems like a no-brainer to me. I was present when he presented something similar to this before at council , and I was appalled by the small group of men who felt that yelling their opposition and grandstanding rather than having an honest objection was the way to behave. Their objections to allowing any changes to "their" center struck me as small minded and self-engrandizing rather than community-minded and forward thinking. Go John B, Go!!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 4:35 p.m.

I failed to mention it because they didn't mention the park other than they didn't want trees planted on its boundaries or along its paths. This small group of men were all about not allowing the change - they attacked Mr. Barfield's character and called him names, they felt the idea of having non-profit offices in the community center would somehow be a problem. They were mainly mad that he didn't get their personal approval before going to council from what I could tell.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

What you fail to mention is the proposal that upset the community so much was one where Mr. Barfield wanted to build out into Parkridge Park. I can't imagine a neighborhood in the city that would be excited to see one of their parks shrunk in size because of development -- especially Normal Park.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

More property off of the tax rolls.

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

Yeah, those two houses were probably holding up half the city's budget. They'll probably need to cancel the rec center after this. Don't museums still pay property taxes, even non-profits?

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

This sounds very nice! But, designating something for a particular race or ethnicity always raises interesting questions. "into an African-American art museum".. Will Native American art be allowed? Is there such a thing as a "white art museum"? Because I'm pretty sure there are poor white people too, and in some areas they are the minority.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

Just what is a "white" museum? Are you suggesting museums dedicated to the Renaissance don't exist? Or do you not consider something like that a "white" museum?

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

LC, you diminish the importance of discussing race and ethnicity openly in our culture. We all know that if someone opened a "white museum" there would be a huge outcry and protests.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

So true. Like why doesn't the Pro Football Hall of Fame have tennis displays? Or why doesn't the Ypsilanti Fire Museum have exhibits about the police? Or why doesn't the Polish Museum of America have more stuff on Italians? Museums about something singular is always a problem.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

Congrats to John for his commitment, why doesn't the city cut the red tape and get it done for a change.