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DETROIT-Federal Empowerment Zones will make a comeback after going seven years without much to show for it, according to new Empowerment Zone Development Corp Executive Director Larry Givens, who took over in June. He’s now in charge of doling out $100 million of federal grant money to encourage economic development over more than 18 blighted square miles of the city.

Critics of the program claim the program is a failure, that residents and businesses in the areas aren’t even aware of their incentive status, that new businesses are not being recruited to enter the areas and any money spent is not being tracked for success.

Some companies have invested in the zones, including $2 billion by DaimlerChrysler for its Jeep plant, General Motors Corp.’s $335 million on its Hamtramck Assembly Center and the renovation of the Wonder Bread Bakery into the $160-million MotorCity Casino.

Givens tells GlobeSt.com he’s going to improve things. While it’s true the city has only spent $37 million of the $100 million in funds provided, he says most of the rest is tied up in obligations to contracts with various agencies.

“We have reasoned the best approach, we’re going to keep it simple,” Givens says. “We’ve decided to focus our efforts around three themes.”

The first theme, he says, is making the areas clean and safe. Programs need to concentrate on cooperating with local police and FBI officials, and more community policing needs to be initiated, Givens adds.

The second theme concentrates on helping the residents and businesses in the zones be smart and healthy, including bringing in new hospitals and clinics.

“We’re not going to have revitalization without making the people in those zones smarter and healthier,” Givens says. “We’ve been struck by the fact that in the existing zone strategic plan, there’s not a lot of focus on health.”

He says his corporation is looking at health-related proposals and projects. It also is entering into discussions with St. John Health System, Henry Ford Medical Center and Detroit Medical Center to see if they will build any new clinics or hospitals in the area.

“The third theme is living and working issues, how we’re revitalizing parks and playgrounds in the zones, and arranging for job training, job placement and better transportation. It’s a known fact there isn’t good transportation in these areas,” Givens says.

He adds money is not supposed to go directly toward creating bricks and mortar, but should be used indirectly to help bring projects together.

One example is the award Thursday of almost $600,000 to seven non-profit housing developers to build 198 units of multifamily and 53 units of single-family homes in the zones.

Givens and the city have work to do during the next three years, as the total $100 million is supposed to be spent by December 2004 unless an extension is requested.

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