Who We Are & What We Do

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Established in 1957, the Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) fosters innovation, drive, and commitment. We work with investors, entrepreneurs, customers, and neighbors to capitalize on Southwest Detroit’s competitive advantage. We support our community’s vision for a healthy, vibrant neighborhood.

The Association is a coalition of businesses and community interests committed to facilitating the continuation and enhancement of a stable, economically healthy Southwest Detroit. We accomplish this by employing strategies that support existing business and industrial enterprises, enhance the climate for public and private investment and economic growth, and act as a vehicle for cooperative ventures that support economic development in Southwest Detroit.

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While our original focus was on business improvement, in recent years we have spearheaded a range of holistic community efforts, expanding our scope to include cultural, recreational, educational, environmental and physical enhancements. Today, our goals are to:

  • Leverage significant private investment from business and property owners, corporations, foundations, and individuals to bring revitalization to the community and broaden the base of stewardship
  • Secure and strengthen Southwest Detroit’s economic assets, including our historic building stock, green spaces, pedestrian-friendly shopping districts, growing residential base, and investment opportunities
  • Keep dollars generated by Southwest Detroit in Southwest Detroit by providing quality goods and services for our economically and ethnically diverse community

We achieve these goals by recognizing economic development as a multi-faceted, comprehensive strategy to stimulate broad-based investment and to grow community wealth and implement real estate development, technical assistance, community planning and organizing, and healthy environment strategies. In short, we roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to make things happen.

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Where Our Efforts Take Hold:

Businesses – They are the centerpiece of the SDBA’s work, and we assist by connecting them to a wide range of technical and financial resources, and by fostering a healthy climate for quality business growth.

Building – Southwest Detroit is one of the most vibrant and active areas in the city. We help promote its historic commercial buildings, create opportunities for regional shopping development in targeted locations, and assist local businesses to invest in their property through commercial renovation incentives. 

Community – We lead efforts to identify, research, and analyze critical land use, market, transportation, and public policy issues affecting economic investment in Southwest Detroit. From here, we implement community improvement activities by coordinating programming to improve the quality of life for area residents, business owners, and customers.

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Businesses are the centerpiece of the SDBA’s work, and we assist by connecting them to a wide range of technical and financial resources, and by fostering a healthy climate for quality business growth.


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We lead efforts to identify, research, and analyze critical land use, market, transportation, and public policy issues affecting economic investment in Southwest Detroit.


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SDBA is truly commitment to the arts. Over the last decade, the SDBA has expanded the scope of its community development efforts to encompass the flourishing arts and culture community in SW Detroit.


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Robert L. Dewaelsche
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Learn more about Rob!

Robert Dewaelsche is president of the Southwest Detroit Business Association where he is responsible for overseeing the program operations, strategic planning, economic development initiatives, finances and personnel management of the organization. Prior to his appointment in September 2017, Dewaelsche served as the deputy director at Detroit LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) where he managed the field staff, programs and grants management.

Dewaelsche previously served as the executive director of Habitat for Humanity Detroit. During his tenure the organization’s total production of affordable housing was more than 130 single-family Habitat homes and another 40 units financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits representing a total investment of more than $18M in four economically distressed Detroit neighborhoods.


Dewaelsche started his career as a volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps in Latin America following his graduation with a BA from the University of Michigan. He and his wife Eva have been married for 36 years and have two daughters and two young grandchildren.

[vc_custom_heading text=”Theresa Zajac” font_container=”tag:h4|font_size:22|text_align:center|color:%233a3a3a|line_height:1.2″ google_fonts=”font_family:Montserrat%3Aregular%2C700|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal”]

Vice President

Learn more about Theresa!

Theresa Zajac has been with the Southwest Detroit Business Association since 2002, and serves as its Vice President.  Zajac has overseen the development of the 17.2 mile Southwest Detroit Greenway, the construction of 2.3 miles of the $6.4 Million West Vernor Highway Streetscape Project, the SDBA Finance and Construction Team that renovated the $5.6 Million historic Odd Fellows Building, and the implementation of State legislation that created the first Business Improvement District (BID) in Michigan.

She currently oversees Fund Development, Green Infrastructure, and Real Estate.   Zajac is part of the leadership team on SDBA finances and the Paving The Way Program, acts as administrator of the West Vernor & Springwells Business Improvement District, and represents the BID on Community Policing issues.

A resident of Southwest Detroit, she enjoys bike riding and looks forward to the riverfront path that connects Southwest to Downtown.

[vc_custom_heading text=”Myrna Segura” font_container=”tag:h4|font_size:22|text_align:center|color:%233a3a3a|line_height:1.2″ google_fonts=”font_family:Montserrat%3Aregular%2C700|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal”]

Director of Business Development

Learn more about Myrna!

Myrna Segura has been doing commercial revitalization in Southwest Detroit for more than 17 years, with 10 years of experience working with the City of Detroit Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization. Segura has provided more than 1000 one-on-one bi-lingual (English/Spanish) counseling sessions to small business owners and offered support with the creation, expansion and retention of numerous local businesses. In addition, she has completed more than thirty (40) façade/storefront improvement projects, in Southwest Detroit totaling more than 1 million dollars in private and public investment in the commercial areas by providing financial incentives, architectural and technical assistance to local business and property owners through the Façade Improvement Matching Grant Program. Myrna also implemented The Day of the Dead Celebration and Tour of Ofrendas (installations), and created the Day of the Dead Walking Tour Brochure to promote Southwest Detroit, its businesses and cultural events.

Segura is now leading the reactivation of the Mexicantown-Hubbard Communities (MHC) Main Street Program, a partnership between the Southwest Detroit Business Association and the Mexicantown Community Development Corporation. The main goal is to continue with the revitalization of the Mexicantown Business District and to strengthen and promote the Mexicantown brand by engaging businesses, community organizations and residents within the Mexicantown-Hubbard Communities. This program brings attention to the vibrancy and positive energy of Mexicantown—its unique businesses, restaurants, bakeries and diverse communities all working together for the benefit of all.

[vc_custom_heading text=”Greg Mangan” font_container=”tag:h4|font_size:22|text_align:center|color:%233a3a3a|line_height:1.2″ google_fonts=”font_family:Montserrat%3Aregular%2C700|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal”]

Real Estate Advocate

Learn more about Greg!

Greg Mangan – Real Estate Advocate provides services to commercial property and land owners looking for new tenants or to redevelop their properties.  He also works with new and existing business that are looking for an appropriate space to locate or expand into within Southwest Detroit.  

Greg has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University and is working on completing his master’s degree from Wayne State University.

What I love most about the Southwest Detroit is the diverse group of people from various backgrounds that live here in this community.  They have created and sustained one of the most vibrant and walkable areas of the entire city.

[vc_custom_heading text=”Jenny Garnica” font_container=”tag:h4|font_size:22|text_align:center|color:%233a3a3a|line_height:1.2″ google_fonts=”font_family:Montserrat%3Aregular%2C700|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal”]

Office Manager

Snapchat-589443158 (1)
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Project Manager of Paving the Way 

Learn more about Alma!

Alma Cruz, Project Coordinator, Paving the Way Program, works with majority of Detroit-based entrepreneurs of color disciplined in road work classifications to assist them with their certification, prequalification, and capacity to work on public infrastructure projects.  She assists with not only the rigorous application process for state designations with MDOT, but also the resources needed to increase the business capabilities to be industry-competitive.  She also represents the SDBA to recruit participants, design, and facilitate the USDOT Bonding and Education Program for minority contractors.

Alma Cruz received her Bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan in Dearborn.  She previously worked in the architectural and construction industry for 12 years, gaining increased responsibilities and working her way up to Office Manager of a multi-million dollar general contracting company.

Alma Cruz is a life-long resident of Southwest Detroit.  Her favorite part of the city is the vibrancy of W. Vernor Hwy on a Sunday afternoon with families bustling through the corridor going to church together, eating lunch together, and ultimately unifying as a celebration of community.

[vc_custom_heading text=”Guadalupe Martinez” font_container=”tag:h4|font_size:22|text_align:center|color:%233a3a3a|line_height:1.2″ google_fonts=”font_family:Montserrat%3Aregular%2C700|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal”]

Director of COMPAS

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We believe any community organization must ultimately be measured by what’s been accomplished. We’re proud of the range of success stories we’ve been involved with in Southwest Detroit.

They began in 1957 when the “West Vernor Businessman’s Association” was established to combat the loss of businesses to the suburban malls. Some 20 years later, with a number of programs and business successes in place, our name officially became known as “Southwest Detroit Business Association” and our scope expanded as we began working with the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce

Shortly thereafter, in 1981, we were first to receive a LISC grant in the City of Detroit for commercial revitalization. We were also the first business group in Michigan to receive non-profit status, thanks to a number of community development projects that had been successfully implemented. A year later, another first took place when the first facade improvement on West Vernor was completed at Rebert’s Bakery with a $1,000 investment.

In 1985, the initial “Do it in Detroit” event took place, in conjunction with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce. The campaign incorporated a series of events throughout the city to encourage shopping along main streets. The next year, the program’s name became known as “Shop Your Block.”

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SDBA efforts expanded further – in 1989, we founded the Mexicantown Community Development Corporation in partnership with Hubbard Richard Community Council. Then, two years later, the Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) was created in partnership with the East Michigan Environmental Council.

Next, formal recognition for our efforts – in 1993, we were selected as just one of three  organizations nationwide as a Community Initiated Development National Main Street model. Specifically, Southwest Detroit’s Hubbard Farms was designated as a Local Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic places.

In 1994 we created an initiative that still in place and effective today – our Community Policing program, which also contributed to our Jumpstart the Motor City Empowerment Zone Application and, in turn, allowed us to be eligible for Federal incentives. As a direct result, the Rebert Building was purchased and became a major redevelopment project, eventually serving as headquarters for the Southwest Detroit Service Center and main office for the SDBA.

For the rest of the 90s, our efforts took shape in many innovative and varied ways. We were first in Detroit to secure and utilize a Geographical Information System (GIS) to aid in planning and mapping, we created the Southwest Detroit Graffiti-Free Collaborative, and, by 1997, were helping shape the Detroit’s Reinvestment Strategy for Cluster 5, better known as Southwest Detroit. Finally, in 1999, redevelopment efforts culminated with a new 25,000 square foot Supermercado in the Heart of West Vernor, built by E&L and representing a $4 million investment.

As we moved into the 21st Century, several milestones of note took place. The year 2002 marked 20 years in print for the region’s Community News publication, which celebrated the occasion by becoming bilingual. Up the street, some 89 buildings on West Vernor received official recognition by the National Park service, US Department of the Interior, and National Historic Preservation of Historic Places. Perhaps, then, it was only natural that two years later, in 2004, we were awarded with a Cool Cities Grant and the DTE Power of Excellence award.

Most recently, in 2007, with the support of the SDBA Business owners, work to formalize the first BID in the State of Michigan was initiated. And the first phase of the subsequent Greenways project was completed. Then, in ’08, we launched the

“Savor Southwest Detroit” campaign to increase awareness of our area’s culinary strengths. Then, 2009 saw BID services expand to cover a greater area and we began to work in the Mexicantown area on Detroit’s ReStore district.

Looking ahead, there’s no telling where our efforts might be directed. But you can bet we’ll be in the center of the Southwest, looking to help a community that is solidly committed to growth, changes, and people.



There are many people, businesses and groups that make up any vibrant community. In Southwest Detroit, we are blessed with many such individuals and organizations. At the SDBA, we’d like to recognize those listed here for their exceptional role in making our community a unique and special place.


Michael Odom – Board Chair
Marx Layne & Company

Tonia Patino

Steve Weiner – Board Treasurer
Edw. C. Levy



Michael F. Droze
Castle Cove Consulting

Sandra X. Gutierrez
Chase Bank

Bishop Donald Hanchon
Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit
Archidiocese of Detroit

John Serda
Detroit Police Department

Michael Lynch
DTE Energy

Jacci Woods
Motor City Casino

Sylvia Gucken
The Ideal Group

Robert Dewaelsche 
President, SDBA


Our biggest reward comes every day when we walk through Southwest Detroit and experience a thriving, diverse, growing community.

We’d be remiss, however, if we didn’t list some of the other accolades that have come our way:

Cool Cities Grant Awarded – 2004
DTE Power of Excellence Award – 2004
The Preservation Wayne Community Development Award- 1998
The City of Detroit Distinguished Service Award- 2006
Keep Michigan Beautiful Award- 1998
Salute to 50 Years- Detroit City Council- 2007
State of Michigan Certificate of Tribute- 2004
Renaissance Youth Center Award- 1991
Special Tribute from the State of Michigan House of Representatives – 2008
SWIDA Award of Appreciation-2001
Bank One Neighborhood Impact Award-2002

In addition, SDBA president, Kathy Wendler, has been recognized with several reputable awards:

Michigan Historic Preservation Lifetime Achievement Award-2008
Spirit of Detroit Award
Certificate of Appreciation- Catherine Fergusen Academy- 2001
SDEV Environmental Vision Award- 2007


Residents, Business Owners, and Tourists

SW Detroit

Martina G.

Two thumbs up for SDBA!

Vernor Chiropractic Clinic, Chiropractic Assistant

Jennifer A.

Everyone at Vernor Chiropractic Clinic loves Southwest Detroit Business Association! They are the best!

Amy's Shoes and Accessories, Owner

Ricardo R.

Amazing! They've helped us so much with our business growth. Thank you SDBA!

Detroit Resident

Larry M.

SDBA goes above and beyond to help residents, businesses, and the community at large. Keep up the great work!

Detroit Resident

Kit L.

This a 5-star Business Association!


La Posada Market

Thank You for all the support! You staff is the best! Please continue helping small business and persons to resolve their situations. Very Thankful!

Board of Commissioners, Wayne County

Jesse G.

Thank you for all the great work that SDBA has done please don't stop 🙂

Native Detroiter

Annie O.

SDBA is GREAT! Openly celebrating immigrant culture, visioning well lighted, pedestrian friendly streetscapes, bike lanes and racks are all priceless.