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DETROIT -- When most people hear the words "8 Mile," they immediately think of the movie and song by hip-hop superstar Eminem, which take their name and substance from the infamous Detroit roadway.
Eight Mile Boulevard is the physical boundary between Detroit and its northern suburbs, but it's better known for being a cultural divide between the predominantly poor black city and its wealthier, predominantly white northern suburbs. For years, the road and the businesses on it have been plagued by the perception that it's a high-crime, gang-ridden area with high vacancy rates.
Over the last several months, CITGO Petroleum Corp. and several of its Detroit-area marketers have partnered with the Eight Mile Boulevard Association (8MBA) to do their part to revitalize the famous thoroughfare. The effort, which began in June and was completed by the fall, consisted of renovations to four locally owned CITGO stations on Eight Mile Road in Detroit, Ferndale and Warren, Mich.
The major improvements done at each site included new fuel pumps; improved lighting; technologically advanced signs; a new canopy and building design featuring CITGO's new, bold look; upgrades to their convenience store facilities and restrooms; the resurfacing of parking areas; and new landscaping. (Click on the Photo Gallery below for before and after pictures of the stations.)
"The gas stations/convenience stores along the boulevard are very important in the community because the city of Detroit doesn't have any grocery store chains. Consequently, many people frequent these locations for items other than just gasoline," Alan Flagg, CITGO's general manager, Light Oils Marketing, told CSNews Online. "That's why it is so important that these locations project a welcoming, safe environment, both outside at the pump as well as inside the convenience store."
Eight Mile Boulevard Association got the ball rolling when it contacted CITGO and several other petroleum brands upon noticing there were inconsistencies in the upkeep and appearance standards of the stations on 8 Mile Road, compared to stations in the surrounding areas. 8MBA was started in 1993 and its mission is to revitalize the 27-mile stretch of Eight Mile Road between I-275 and I-294.
"We approached six brands with stations on 8 Mile, and CITGO was the only one that responded," said Tami Salisbury, executive director of the Eight Mile Boulevard Association. "We just wanted to see those stations enhance the areas in which they're in, with the addition of landscaping, painting, etc. There were also some instances of graffiti that needed cleaning up."
Flagg said when CITGO reviewed the project, the company felt it was a tremendous opportunity for this particular area of Detroit, and also saw it as a way for CITGO to demonstrate its commitment to "Fueling Good" in the local community. Secondarily, the company hoped its efforts would inspire other local businesses to follow suit, making an even larger impact in the area.
The CITGO team reached out to its local marketers that supply each CITGO station along the route, which included Barrick Enterprises, Bazzi Oil & Gas, RKA Petroleum Cos. and Knight Enterprises. Together , they determined which stations would participate and the extent of the upgrades required. The CITGO stations chosen were: 18321 W. Eight Mile Blvd. and 14202 E. Eight Mile Blvd. in Detroit; 140 Pinecrest in Ferndale, Mich.; and 5245 Eight Mile Blvd. in Warren, Mich.
8MBA helped facilitate discussions with local officials to expedite approvals and permitting.
"Clearly, gas stations and convenience stores play a central role in the local community, especially in the Detroit area," Flagg said. "With this in mind, our goal was three-fold: welcome the customer by providing cleaner, more appealing CITGO locations along Eight Mile; help infuse pride in the community; and inspire other businesses to follow the CITGO example and invest in the area."
With the project now complete, Flagg said the CITGO team is "incredibly pleased" with the station renovations and the application of its new brand image. The locations are visibly cleaner and project a more appealing environment. "Everyone at CITGO is very proud to be a part of the renovations along the Eight Mile corridor. We believe our investment in this community will help it prosper," he said.
Furthermore, the cleaner, more appealing environment of these upgraded and reimaged locations will, hopefully, draw more customers to the pumps and inside the convenience stores, which ultimately benefits CITGO, its marketers and the station owners. "CITGO and our local business partners see a tremendous amount of potential in the Eight Mile corridor," Flagg added.
Frank Hanze, owner of the CITGO station at 140 Pinecrest in Ferndale, is already seeing a positive impact from his site's transformation, which he described as a "dramatic change" from the old image.
"It really stands out on the street. People coming in really like the new look," said Hanze, who's owned the station since 1994 and has steadily seen traffic on 8 Mile increase over the years. "Since August, I have seen an improvement in my business, [which] I attribute to the new image."
As 8MBA's Salisbury sees it, the more visual enhancements they can make on Eight Mile Road, the more it will help to further break down the stigma. "CITGO has been a tremendous partner. I wish every corporation would step up like CITGO has," Salisbury said. "They went above and beyond our expectations."
And CITGO said its work with the Eight Mile Boulevard Association is not done. Going forward, the company and its local marketers and retailers plan to expand their collaboration with 8MBA by partnering with area schools to promote literacy and education through book donations and reading events.
"We have a great relationship with the Eight Mile Boulevard Association, and we look forward to finding new and exciting ways to better the local community," Flagg said. "The Detroit market is incredibly important to CITGO as one of our identified areas for continued growth."