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Hantz Woodlands brings thousands of trees to hard-pressed Detroit neighborhoods

One of the city's richest residents, John Hantz, is buying hundreds of acres of vacant property, tearing down dilapidated structures, and planting trees in the space.

June 17, 2016 |
Hantz Woodlands brings thousands of trees to hard-pressed Detroit neighborhoods

On one 3½-acre lot, 330 tires and 150 cubic yards of trash had to be removed. Hantz Farms started planting trees there last November. Photo: Atlas Industries.

On May 7, 1,200 volunteers planted 3,150 six-foot sugar maples around the new learning laboratory of the Detroit Enterprise Academy, a K-8 public charter school.

The tree-planting campaign was the third in as many years for Hantz Woodlands, the brainchild of John Hantz, founder of Hantz Group, a financial services conglomerate.

Eight years ago, Hantz, one of Detroit’s richest residents, became distressed by the blight he saw around him. Within Detroit’s 140-square-mile boundary sat 40 square miles of abandoned or near-undevelopable land and buildings. The city owned about a third of these properties through foreclosure but couldn’t afford the $360 million needed to maintain the holdings.

Hantz launched Hantz Farms to convert vacant property to farmland. He approached the city with a plan to acquire up to 10,000 acres for $30 million. The city didn't like the idea of farming the land, so Hantz offered to plant trees in existing neighborhoods through an entity called Hantz Woodlands.

The plan narrowly won city approval in late 2012. In his first deal, Hantz paid the state of Michigan $500,000 for 1,550 properties on 150 acres of city-owned land. Hantz Farms has torn down 61 structures, but another 250 still need to be demolished.

As of late April, Hantz had purchased 180 acres in a square-mile area. He intends to acquire 200 additional acres this year.

The land is never fenced in, to make sure the local community has access.

Last December, the city’s planning director, Maurice Cox, credited Hantz Woodlands with inspiring a new city-run eco-program that will target two quarter-mile-square districts with either “green” tree planting, or “blue” treatment, such as rainwater gardens.

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