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Can zombie theme park save Detroit?

If Z World Detroit ever gets launched, this novel concept for rescuing derelict buildings could be a new take on urban renewal.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 10, 2012 10:46AM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis of MSN Money.


Image: Zombies (© Renee Keith/Vetta/Getty Images)Here's an imaginative proposal for reclaiming a section of one of Detroit's abandoned neighborhoods: Turn 200 acres of derelict buildings into a zombie apocalypse theme park.


The guy behind it envisions a game, like paintball or flag football, but with actors playing brain-eating zombies. The zombies would chase paying customers who'd spend the night fleeing and hiding at Z World Detroit. If caught, players would become members of the walking dead.


An animated video says:

You'd be running for your life, hiding out in buildings, looking for supplies and trying to establish a base. You'll get separated from your group and have to hook up with another group. You'll wonder if you're going to make it through the night or will you be turned into a zombie.

Z World wouldn't be the nation's first zombie theme park. Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse ("100,000 square feet of terror") is scheduled to open Sept. 28. It reportedly involves "a two-story motel, ransacked restaurants, looted businesses, trashed offices, long and desolate hallways, sprawling courtyards, and expansive truck garages." The website makes no mention of using derelict buildings, however.


The search for funding

The Detroit concept -- that's all it is right now -- is being promoted by Marc Siwak, 40, of Clawson, Mich. Siwak told the Detroit Free Press that Z World could create jobs and maintain some vacant structures by upgrading them for safety even while keeping them looking deliberately decrepit. Siwak wants to buy or lease abandoned property on the near-east side of Detroit where, the Free Press says, much of the land is owned by the city. (Post continues below video.)

At Indiegogo, a crowd-funding site, Netizens help fund projects they deem worthy. There, Z World Detroit is trying to raise $145,000 in start-up capital. The project's description says:

(W)e lamented what happened to the neighborhoods. Individually we wondered why "someone" wasn't doing "something" about it. It then occurred to us, what were we really doing about (it)? Z World Detroit is our inspired and visionary response to inject vitality back into Detroit's neighborhoods.

The group says it will use the money to:

  • Conduct a comprehensive study to locate ideal sites that meet specific criteria.
  • Develop specific site designs.
  • Refine game play through pilot design and testing.

A month before its Indiegogo deadline expires, Z World has raised less than $10,000.


Detroit's orphan properties

"Can't we do something more creative than just walking away from chunks of the city?" Siwak asks in the Free Press interview. Indeed. Putting vacant homes to good use, or even just bulldozing them, seems like a no-brainer. But there are surprising hurdles.


The city of Detroit has identified 33,000 dangerous buildings, defined by the city as "vacant and not boarded-up, some fire-damaged, others just falling apart or with gaping dark holes where doors and windows once stood," according to a Free Press two-part series about empty buildings near schools. The derelict buildings pose dangers to schoolchildren, including the possibility of rape, assault, drug use, gang activity and kidnapping.


Detroit Mayor Dave Bing wants to tear down 10,000 of the dangerous buildings before 2013. But even that isn't easy. Demolition and lot clearing costs $8,000 per home. The city had removed 4,205 of the homes by mid-April.


And yet, Detroit officialdom seems to reject Z World Detroit. The Free Press contacted the mayor's office:

"No. And the city has no additional comment on this proposal," mayoral spokeswoman Naomi Patton said in an email on whether the city's Planning and Development Department would consider the park a suitable means of land use.

Novel solutions

Derelict buildings are a national problem. Although there appears to be no national count of abandoned buildings, the census does count vacant structures. About 13.9% of U.S. homes were vacant (about a quarter of those vacancies were seasonal homes, however) in the first quarter this year (.pdf file). About 14.9 million homes, not including vacation properties, are vacant.

Around the country, local governments are searching for solutions. Demolition is the most prevalent response. But a few novel ideas are emerging. Among them:

  • Detroit, for one, is considering letting fires in buildings burn themselves out in a controlled way rather than fighting them, to save money for the cash-strapped city. Fire department officials are discussing allowing firefighters to let blazes go if more than 50% of the structure was consumed, there's no risk to other, inhabited buildings and there's no danger from weather.
  • The New York Times tells of homeowners shouldering salvage projects to save unique homes. "A retired Army staff sergeant, two professors, a former newspaper copy editor, a painter and an interior decorator, among several others, incorporated themselves to collectively purchase (a) 3,000-square-foot house for $9,500 at a foreclosure sale" in South Bend, Ind., the Times says. The group rehabbed the home to save it and keep up their neighborhood.
  • In Detroit, again, The Heidelberg Project began 26 years ago when artist Tyree Guyton, his grandfather and some neighborhood kids started cleaning up vacant lots on crime- and drug-ridden Heidelberg Street, where they lived. Guyton and others have by now covered a two-block area with art using paint and discarded objects. Their canvas: streets, sidewalks, abandoned homes, vacant lots and even trees. The project's website says the area is in one of the most economically depressed ZIP codes in the country, with 75% unemployment and 90% of residents below the poverty line. Watch a video of Guyton describing the project here.

More from MSN Money:

Jul 11, 2012 11:43AM
Is it too many black people hanging around Detroit that it is bringing it down or has been union members wishing times could change back to the "good old days".  Offer a cheap skilled labor force like the south, encourage investments, then slowly introduce union demands.  Otherwise Detoit is stalled.  Lastly, if you believe in global climate warming.  Detroit will become a great place to work during the winter.  There is hope!
Jul 11, 2012 2:16AM
Nothing can save Detroit, and lord knows they brought it on themselves. 
Jul 10, 2012 11:55PM
after watching hardcore pawn on tv, i don't think anything can save detroit!!!!
Jul 10, 2012 7:41PM
are you serious?zombies and black people?have you ever seen a black person around a spider os a snake?
Jul 10, 2012 7:37PM
it's going to take white people moving back into the city,nothing else will ever work.
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