Businessman seeks to renovate Detroit

John Hantz wants to turn an overgrown vacant lot in Detroit into a farm
CBS News

(CBS News) DETROIT - Detroit has lost a quarter of its population over the past decade, creating a landscape littered with abandoned homes and vacant land. But one local businessman has an unconventional plan for turning things around:

In what used to be a booming metropolis, Detroit resident John Hantz wanted to show us this meadow. This overgrown vacant lot in Detroit was once the site of a proposed supermarket. It was never built.

Now Hantz, an entrepreneur, has proposed a new idea for this land: he wants to build a farm.

"My belief is the farm is a way to implement quality of life improvement," he explained.

He'd like to buy 200 acres of property from the city. In exchange, Hantz will tear down more than 200 vacant homes and clear tons of illegally-dumped garbage.

Detroit currently has 30,000 acres of vacant land and 40,000 abandoned homes. "Once we take over these properties the government is relieved of cutting the grass and instantly starts collecting revenue tax wise," said Hantz.

But some residents believe that won't make much difference. Malik Yakini runs an urban community garden and sees Hantz's idea as a land grab -- taking advantage of a chance to snap up real estate at rock-bottom prices.

"There is great potential to develop that land for the collective good, as opposed to one wealthy individual buying up large tracts of land," he said.

To convince skeptics, Hantz built a three-acre pilot site to demonstrate his idea.

Hantz Farm president Mike Score oversaw the project."We came in and planted oaks on the main part of the property and flowering trees along the perimeter...there are 900 oak trees on 3 acres," he said.

Score, who was born and raised in Detroit, says he's already seen changes in the neighborhood, like kids playing outside in an area that was once too dangerous.

"When visitors come to Detroit," said Hantz, "I want them to come because its' a place of beauty."

Hantz insists money isn't his motivation -- he simply wants to improve his city.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.