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DETROIT (AP) — Remnants of the roof and walls creaked, groaned and then crumpled to the ground Wednesday from what once was an industrial building that covered an entire city block, likely the last structure demolished this year under Detroit's massive blight elimination program.
Blows from an excavator methodically destroyed a portion of what had been a 60,000-square-foot building on Cloverdale Avenue in a west side neighborhood of homes, auto repair shops and other light industrial buildings.
When leveled, the structure that a local resident said had once housed an industrial laundry or dry cleaners, will mark about 3,130 structures cleared in 2016 and about 10,700 — mostly houses — razed since 2014. The vast majority are owned by the city's Land Bank Authority.
But the city has a long way to go. A blight task force in 2014 said 40,000 needed to be torn down and 38,000 others were falling apart in one of the nation's poorest major cities that emerged in December 2014 from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Many blocks have more abandoned houses and empty lots than lived-in homes, a result of the exodus of whites and much of the black middle class from the city. About 1.8 million people lived in Detroit in the 1950s. Fewer than 700,000 currently call Detroit home, according to the U.S. Census.
Mayor Mike Duggan has said the mass demolitions are necessary for Detroit to attract families to city neighborhoods and stop decades of population loss.
"I'm so excited about this," said an almost gleeful Sandra Pickens as the excavator clawed at brick and wood.
Pickens is president of the Littlefield Community Association. The neighborhood group met over the summer with Duggan about the empty building and other concerns.
"This was an eyesore for us," she told The Associated Press Wednesday. "I've seen people come and dump things here; come in at night and steal the beams. We shouldn't have anything looking like this."
Mike Douglas works in a muffler shop on Cloverdale. He remembers the neighborhood and small businesses in the area as "thriving" 20 or so years ago. He believes the building across the street has been empty a dozen or so years.
The area had "deteriorated to the point that we were having a tough time actually keeping our business here," said Douglas, 55.
By removing dangerous buildings and empty houses, safety and quality of life in Detroit is improved, according to Fire Investigations Division Capt. Winston Farrow.
"It eliminates the opportunities for criminals to set fires in vacant houses," Farrow said. "The problem was more just the sheer numbers of dwellings that we had."
The average sale prices of over 100 houses sold in the city also has increased over the past three years, according to the Land Bank.
The problems haven't been resolved completely, "but it's much better," said Linda Smith, a blight task force co-chair and executive director of a nonprofit that builds homes in Detroit and provides resources to city residents.
"Maintaining and securing all of the homes that need some work done to them is the next step," Smith said.
Not everyone is as optimistic.
"You can tear down a house on one block and go back several months later and where houses were occupied (they) are now abandoned and need to be demolished," said Sheila Dapremont, owner of Detroit demolition company 3D Wrecking.
"It just seems like it never ends," she said.
On average, it costs Detroit $12,616 to knock down a house. More than $128 million in federal funds over the past three years have helped pay for the work. Another $130 million was approved this year.
About $40 million in the city's general fund has been set aside for demolitions.
Federal funding was temporarily halted earlier this year and resumed after an audit determined demolition costs above a federal cap of $25,000 per house were redistributed to 350 other properties to have those houses appear to meet the cap. Amounts over the cap should have been billed to the city. The city says controls have since been tightened.