Detroit bistro owner claims racism is prompting eviction

Resurget Cineribus. The second half of Detroit's motto translates into "It shall rise from the ashes" and it's happening. The City of Detroit is transforming and nowhere is that more evident than Downtown. Except for one business who says they're being forced out because they're black.

At the heart of Detroit's rebirth, a racial battle is brewing.

"It's very painful. We were just trying to do good business and wanted to make things nice for the people for Detroit," Marilyn Hall said.

Hall had big dreams for her restaurant. She sunk her life savings in to this place, leased the space, and in November 2013, she and her son, Gerald Watson, opened Mo Better Blues on Adams in Detroit. But she says, new building owners came in and now Mo Better is no more.

"They allowed us to build this place out, spent over a quarter million dollars in it, and then wanted to get us out and put somebody else in it," Watson said.

Gerald Watson says they've been in a legal battle for months with owners Kales Grand Circus Park, from rent payments to building conditions. An attorney for Kales did not return our calls for comment. Watson says he believes he and other black business owners are being forced out of this new Detroit...

"I think it's racist," Watson said. "We feel like they don't want blacks downtown."

Just last week the Detroit News published a story about black-owned businesses evicted from the Himelhoch Building after leasing there for 30 years. Darnell Smith,  the owner of the Tangerine Room next to Atwater Brewery, says he's being forced out as well by building owner Rivertown Holdings.

"He wants the space back to be a part of the revival, which I'm sure everybody wants to be a part of, but he's trying to come up with a reason to just kick me out," Smith said.

An attorney for Rivertown points to a judge's ruling that Smith demolished 75% of the inside of the building, leading to his eviction. Smith says he's still fighting and will be back in court Thursday.

 "I think in my case - particularly - he always wanted the space back," said Smith.

It is, after all, all about the space. 

"You think - that's a shame but it's not wrong and it's not discrimination and it's not anything evil..."

Scott Griffin with Griffin Properties and Restaurant Group says Detroit's rebirth means landlords can now charge double what they did just two years ago.

 "You can't blame that on the landlords who are buying these buildings at significantly increased prices now and who are trying to do the best thing they can for that building, for their investors," Griffin said.

But civil rights activist Rev. Horace Sheffield says other activists are organizing a boycott called no blacks downtown to discourage blacks from coming where it's perceived they're not wanted.

"This town's gone through an awful lot to get where we are and it needs to be shared space and something that appreciates folks that never left with the same value as those who are just coming back," Sheffield said.

Sheffield says he's meeting with business leaders and reaching out to property owners hoping to bridge this divide... 

"Let's do better with this resurgence than we've done in the past - we've got one opportunity to get it right - and let's get everybody together and make it happen."

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