Belfor Property Restoration donates $25,000 as interior work on the gymnasium set to begin; Pistons greats sport jerseys
DETROIT — Ceciliaville, in cooperation with the Detroit Pistons, the Archdiocese of Detroit and Belfor Property Restoration, unveiled images of the proposed restoration of St. Cecilia's Gym, known as “The Saint,” in northwest Detroit.
The unveiling comes as Ceciliaville wraps up Phase 1 of its overall restoration project to the famed gym that was originally tied to St. Cecilia School and Parish — now St. Charles Lwanga Parish.
Sheldon Yellen, CEO of Belfor, emceed the Oct. 4 event and presented Ceciliaville chairman Ike McKinnon, Ph.D., with a $25,000 check as work in Phase 2 of the renovations is set to begin in 2024.
The event was attended by famous Detroit basketball players, including former Mayor Dave Bing and Earl “The Twirl” Cureton, Charlie Edge, Grant Long, Greg Kelser and Derrick Coleman, who were presented with special green, Ceciliaville-themed Detroit Pistons “City Edition” jerseys.
“This place right here was a place where a lot of these Detroit Pistons hustled with grit and tried to throw a little ball into a hoop, and they wound up on the Pistons and helped so many guys change their lives through basketball and mentorship,” Yellen told Detroit Catholic. “Here we are, back at Ceciliaville, ready to renovate the place and bring it back to operation, making sure it is sustainable for generations to come, so more kids can come through and learn how to play and learn how to be part of a team.”
Plans for Ceciliaville’s restoration call for expanding the gymnasium, a new HVAC system, resurfacing and expanding the parking lot with more lighting and closing off Stearns Avenue between “The Saint” and St. Charles Lwanga to create a public plaza in front of the gym's entrance.
The project also includes building auxiliary spaces for youth mentoring, classrooms for lessons in financial literacy, tutoring, a computer lap and free WiFi that will benefit both the parish and the wider Ceciliaville community.
Cureton, who is a community ambassador for the Pistons and sits on the Ceciliaville board of directors, recounted the rich history of “The Saint,” how in its heyday, Ceciliaville was producing high-quality players in the city of Detroit and was a place where Detroit’s youth got to rub shoulders and share the court with professional and college stars from the area.
“It was not only a good place for basketball, but it was a melting pot,” Cureton said. “It was getting kids off the street. I would spend my days here, right here at St. Cecilia from 9 a.m. all the way to 6-7 in the evening, then going home. It kept so many kids off the street; so many relationships were developed here. The pros, college players, my hat still goes off to Sam Washington (former athletic director at St. Cecilia Parish) to put this all together. And we want to bring it back.”
Phase 1 of the rehabilitation included environmental and architectural work to secure the building, so now Belfor can work on much-needed improvements that will see the court widen, more seating available, heating and air conditioning and the creation of an athletic and recreational complex that will be a cornerstone of the Livernois and Grand River communities.
“You have a lot of mechanical work that needs to be done. We've got roofing that needs to be done. The facades need to be done,” Yellen said. “We have so much interior work that need to be done on a cosmetic level, but when done, we’ll have interior rooms, breakout rooms and classrooms where coaches and teachers can work with the kids. This facility will be much more than a gym one day.”
McKinnon, former chief of the Detroit Police Department and deputy mayor of Detroit and current professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, spoke of “The Saint’s” impact in the community following the civil unrest the city experienced in 1967. McKinnon spoke about how police officers after their shift would place basketball at “The Saint” as a way to engage with the youth in the community.
“Back in those days, the pros would be here, and you’d have one pro on each team,” McKinnon recalled. “I happed to be on Dave Bing’s team. I’m a guy who thought he could play ball, but playing ball with Dave Bing is different. I was on a fastbreak, and Dave me threw me the ball, and I missed the shot. Dave said, ‘I’ll never throw you another pass.’”
Kidding aside, McKinnon spoke about how Ceciliaville was such a key component to healing in the city after 1967, and after many conversations with Bing, Cureton and other Ceciliaville alumni, the group got together to see if they could restore Ceciliaville and make it a safe haven for the next generation.
“The late Sam Washington started this, and the police would come here so we could rest,” McKinnon said. “Those of us who lost our lives or were there, this was a place where we found joy. So many young kids got to be part of this.”
The event also served as an outreach to the wider community to support the Ceciliaville project, which Yellen said could cost up to $8-10 million. Donors can visit Ceciliaville.org to learn more and donate.
“We need everyone in the community to reach out and support this,” Cureton said. “We don’t have recreation centers like we used to, don’t have that opportunity go out and have the kids play with the pros and college kids.”
Fr. Ted Parker of St. Charles Lwanga Parish asked the crowd gathered to remember the faith and commitment of the people of St. Cecilia Parish — now St. Charles Lwanga Parish — who started the gym.
“The people of St. Cecilia had the forethought to remember something about humankind,” Fr. Parker said. “During the insurrection of 1967, they said this place is not going to be open to just Catholics; it will be for everyone who lives in the area. Your home is here. That’s why this place is named Ceciliaville, because it’s a village for everyone.”
Ceciliaville has a proud history, Fr. Parker said, a history worth celebrating, but this day was about the future.
“The new Ceciliaville will be a place where young people can learn, young people can grow, experience the joy of living, and come to know all of this comes from God,” Fr. Parker said. “The future is before us, and the reason for the future is because of the people who believe in God. I’m hoping all of you today will help us realize the new Ceciliaville.”