Government Leaders Urge US Government to Fund New Customs Plaza

Government Leaders Urge US Government to Fund New Customs Plaza

September 30, 2014
By J. Carlisle Larsen

 

“I would rather have us do the right thing and just pay for it…”
—Governor Rick Snyder

 
The New International Trade Crossing has been in the works for well over a decade. First discussed and studied at the turn of this century, the new bridge was finally agreed upon between the U.S. and Canada in 2012. Since then, land has been purchased on both sides of the river; permits have been approved to build the bridge; and governing boards have been established to begin moving the project forward. But at a news conference held this summer in Windsor, a key question popped up. “What is happening with the United States custom plaza?” Canadian Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt had this answer.

“Well we don’t know what’s going to happen in the end. But what we can say right now is: we know we have construction timelines and they’re very important, ‘cause we want to get this bridge built, we want to make sure nothing holds it up. And we know there’s conversations happening,” She said. “But the important part for this is: regardless of conversations on financing, they can’t impede our progress on the bridge…”

Canada is shouldering virtually the entire cost of the new bridge—estimated at more than $500-million dollars. That’s actually been a selling point to some taxpayers since Michigan residents would not be on the hook for the project. However, state lawmakers have argued that the U-S government should take on the responsibility of funding the U-S customs plaza. But Raitt says, in order to keep the bridge on the timeline that Canadian officials want, they would be willing to consider fronting the cost for the American plaza.
“If push comes to shove, we’ll end up having that discussion and conversation. And I’ve said before, we’re open to it. But the reality is that: Governor Snyder is working on the matter, we’re working on the matter with the Ambassador to Canada from the United States…and that’s an appropriate place to have those conversations,” Raitt says.

And according to two prominent Michigan lawmakers, conversations are taking place to convince the U.S. government to make the new bridge and the customs plaza a top priority. One of those politicians is Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. His administration helped finalize the deal with Canada in 2012 and he’s been a vocal supporter of the bridge as a way to bolster the state’s economy. Snyder doesn’t mince words about the slow response from the federal government when it comes to approving funding for the plaza.

“Regardless of conversations on financing [the customs plaza], they can’t impede our progress on the bridge…”
—Canadian Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt

“It’s to be used by the federal government to protect the United States. And how would you feel if you were Canada, to say you were being asked to pay for that facility?” He says, “I think it’s offensive to the Canadian government and the people of Canada. So, I would rather have us do the right thing and just pay for it or rent it. So that’s the part I’m working on with the federal government.”

Snyder isn’t alone in pushing the federal government to fund the plaza. Michigan congressman Gary Peters introduced the Customs Plaza Construction Act of 2014—or H-R 4057—in February. Peters says he’s working to get support for the bill.

“It’s critical that this customs plaza be built. It’s important that the US federal government contributes to that seeing as most of the bridge project is being funded by the Canadian government,” Peters says. “But the facility that basically houses the US government agencies—border control and customs, needs to be funded by the federal government and we’re in the process of putting together the pieces and the support necessary to make that a reality.”

But the Peters’ bill has been sitting in both in the Homeland Security Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee since February. It’s likely that the hold-up to moving it out of committee is largely political. Tim Bledsoe is a Political Science Professor at Wayne State University and a former Democratic state legislator. He says he’s not confident that Peters’ bill will get passed given the make-up of the U-S House of Representatives.

“First of all, Gary Peters is a Democratic Congress member from Michigan and the US House is currently controlled by Republicans,” He says. “And generally the bills submitted by minority party members simply don’t move in the House of Representatives.”

Bledsoe says the bill would have had more political appeal in the House had it been co-sponsored by a Republican–such as Michigan Representative Mike Rogers or Dave Camp–instead of a slew of Democrats. However, Bledsoe says it’s possible that lawmakers could see a similar resolution tacked to another bill in the Senate, where its chances of passing are greater.

“Once it’s actually in a bill that’s been passed by the Senate…there’s a much greater likelihood of the Republican leadership of the House persuading its caucus to go along with it,” he says.
That fact isn’t lost on Gary Peters. He says it’s crucial that the bridge project is a bi-partisan effort, crediting the Governor—a Republican—with being an important part of the project. He admits getting his Republican colleagues on board in the House has been difficult. But Peters says he’s optimistic that the customs plaza will receive funding in some capacity. He says he’s been working with the Obama administration—which has funded other border projects, such as the customs plaza at the US-Mexico crossing in Laredo, Texas. Peters says there’s still time to secure money for the Detroit plaza since the bridge is in its earliest stages.

“Funding for the customs plaza doesn’t have to happen today or even next year, you don’t build a customs plaza until you build a bridge and that’s a few years down the road.

So we’ve got some time and I believe we’re making some good, constructive progress,” he says.
“It’s important that the US federal government contributes to [customs plaza] seeing as most of the bridge project is being funded by the Canadian government.”
—Representative Gary Peters, MI-14

Until the New International Trade Crossing is built, goods and motorists traveling through Michigan will still use the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, and the privately owned Ambassador Bridge to get to Ontario. It’s estimated that nearly eight-thousand trucks alone cross at the Ambassador Bridge daily. Supporters of the new bridge argue the project is needed to guarantee that trade will continue to flow freely between the two countries. The new bridge is scheduled to open by 2020.

Originally posted by J. Carlisle Larsen on WDET News

Two Detroit eyesores that have to be fixed

It has been quite a while since we were able to get the cement plants on Detroit’s riverfront torn down, and it has made a dramatic difference in the waterfront.

Now we have to turn our attention to two major architectural eyesores that need the entire community’s action to get rid of or fixed up.

The Michigan Central Depot railroad station is a giant eyesore that almost symbolizes the plight that Detroit has had for the last few decades. We all know the owner and how he has fought the new bridge being built just a bit downriver from his existing bridge.

Somehow, this railroad station has something to do with his plan. There are some tunnels under the station, and I have no doubt it will become a pawn in whatever Matty Moroun’s grand plan turns out to be.

By all accounts, it would take far too much money to fix up the station for some business use, and so it would seem that unless someone comes up with a plan, the best thing to do is tear it down. Perhaps it should even be condemned, if for no other reason than it is a hazard.

Meanwhile, right in the middle of downtown is the legacy of our Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano: the half-built or less county jail. Sitting in a spot that was pretty inappropriate to begin with, it stands as a symbol of the corruption and inefficiency of our county government.

Hopefully, the plans for this jail will be transferred to somewhere outside of downtown Detroit. But in the meantime, let’s hope that Dan Gilbert’s plan for demolishing the structure can come to pass.

It is amazing that these two structures, separated by decades, can create such a blight on our image.

The city is doing a great job of attacking blight in our city, and there is a real program to eliminate abandoned houses or to sell them with plans for renovation.

To continue to allow these two eyesores to remain standing as the perfect photo op for every visiting journalist who comes to write about our city seems simply absurd.

Both of these structures have existed far too long without positive resolution. I am not sure how we ever got those concrete monstrosities removed from the riverfront, because it took several decades. But it happened, and I hope that we’ll find the same government magic to make these two structures disappear as well.

Maybe we can ask the Ilitches to tear them down when they’re building their new arena.

Originally posted by: Crain’s Detroit Business

Traffic chaos following construction near Ambassador Bridge

Traffic was at a standstill coming off the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor on Saturday.

“There’s nothing I can do about it. We’re held captive by the city,” says one distraught truck driver.

Transport trucks along with regular traffic was detoured to Wyandotte Street west down Crawford to Tecumseh Road West and then back to Huron Church Road.

On an average day, the detour adds about 10 minutes onto the commute.

On Saturday that that doubled.

“We worked really closely with the city of Windsor, Windsor PD and the contractor to ensure the detour worked very efficiently,” says Randy Spader of the Canadian Transit Company.

Southbound lanes off the Ambassador Bridge were closed to replace the railroad tracks intersecting with Huron Church.

“Over the years the tracks have deteriorated, rusted and the head of the rail separated from the web, so it cracks. So when the train goes by it could leave the tracks,” says Richard Gouin, signal maintainer.

During the closure, the Canadian Border Services Agency was reporting a 30 minute delay.

Originally posted by: CTV Windsor

$80 million for the train station? Skeptics doubt it.

Some say $80 million could put a big dent in fixing the exterior, public areas and installing HVAC.

In the more than 20 years since the trains stopped running at the Michigan Central Station, dreamers and schemers have suggested all sorts of new uses for the depot: a casino, convention center, world trade mart, Detroit police headquarters and more.

Nothing worked. All the ideas were dashed by the realities of renovating a huge ruin of a century-old building remote from the immediate downtown.

So it’s no surprise that skepticism greeted the surprise declaration last week by Dan Stamper, a top aide to train station owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who with his family also owns the Ambassador Bridge, that the Morouns would spend $80 million to fix up the station in coming years.

Some say $80 million could put a big dent in fixing the exterior, public areas and installing HVAC. But most developers interviewed by the Free Press said it would cost much more to restore the building to its former glory, with some previous estimates in the $300-million range.

Skepticism arose partly this week because of where Stamper made his revelation — before the Detroit City Council, where he was trying to persuade council members not to sell land in southwest Detroit for the government’s New International Trade Crossing bridge project.

The NITC bridge would siphon traffic and toll revenue away from the Ambassador Bridge. Moroun for years has been trying to block the new bridge. Promising to clean up the train station might have been a bid to win a few votes from a skeptical council.

Skepticism also arose because Moroun, who has owned the train station since the 1990s, has moved at a snail’s pace to renovate it. He has increased security and replaced a few windows but otherwise has left the station pretty much as he found it.

n 2003, when then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced the depot would become the city’s new police headquarters, the project was to have cost $100 million to $150 million. But there were doubters then, too, who said restoring the landmark to service could cost up to $300 million.

Then there are the costs of other, smaller historic rehabilitations in downtown Detroit.

Book-Cadillac Hotel: $190 million.
Fort Shelby Hotel: $75 million.
Broderick Tower: $53 million.
The Broderick is only 200,000 square feet, give or take — Michigan Central Station is almost three times that size.

“Eighty million, to me, is a drop in the bucket for that building,” said Roger Lesinski Sr. of Rochester Hills, one of the partners in the Broderick renovation. “I have no idea what they’ve invested to date in terms of the partial window replacement, but to restore that building and install all the mechanical systems, the heating, the electrical, the elevators, etc., is going to cost a lot more than $80 million.”

Others are more hopeful, albeit cautiously so.

David Di Rita is a principal at the Roxbury Group, which is doing a $92-million renovation of the David Whitney Building in downtown Detroit. Like the train station, the Whitney is one of those 20th-Century Detroit landmark buildings, loaded with jaw-dropping architectural detail and history.

Unlike Michigan Central, however, the Whitney wasn’t destroyed by scrappers, vandals and the elements. So while Di Rita is hopeful, “given the scale and advanced state of deterioration, that price seems a little light.”
Still, he said, “a great deal of good could be done with $80 million to put it back on the path toward being a productive building again. You could probably return the building’s core and shell, shore up its exterior, get windows, basic HVAC, fix up public areas, maybe the concourse. If they were looking to just bring the building back from the brink, that may be enough money.”

But if they’re going to restore the depot’s dazzling décor, Moroun would have to open his wallet a bit wider. When it comes to the ornate plasterwork and marble lining the station’s walls, floors and ceilings, “there is so much damage — and there is so much of it. It would certainly be the most expensive part of the renovation if they can pull it off.

“Most importantly, the building can be restored, and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t understand how well these buildings were built. Despite the neglect and abuse that building has taken, it is absolutely salvageable — and is worth the cost to save it.”

Michigan Central Station by the numbers:

$2.5 million: Cost, in 1913 dollars, to build
$58.9 million: Cost, in 2013 dollars, to build
1913: Year the depot opened, on Dec. 26
1988: Year the depot closed, on Jan. 5
18: The number of floors of the building’s office tower
8 million: The number of bricks in the building
7,000: The number of tons of structural steel used
3,000: The approximate number of employees who worked in the building in the 1940s
4,000: Average daily number of passengers at MCS in 1945
1,000: Average daily number of passengers at MCS in 1967
74: Number of years depot was in service
$110 million-$300 million: Estimated cost to renovate the building
$5 million-$10 million: Estimated cost to demolish it

Originally posted by: The Detroit Free Press

Ferry owner favors Detroit River bridge – even if it costs his job

There have been many voices speaking up in favor of a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Top Canadian officials, Gov. Rick Snyder, big business all hunger for this planned new bridge to be built about two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge.

But one of those speaking up for a new bridge is someone who stands to lose his livelihood once the bridge is up and carrying traffic.

Gregg Ward operates the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. It carries the trucks hauling hazardous materials across the Detroit River, since the Ambassador Bridge is not certified for trucks carrying cargos like gasoline or paint.

Ward says it’s the larger picture that matters, even if that means putting him out of job.

“One of the benefits of this project is, there will be thousands and thousands of jobs, and thousands and thousands of families that will benefit. We have to look at this as a very large regional project that will expand our opportunity … not just look at ourselves,” says Ward.

http://cpa.ds.npr.org/michigan/audio/2014/09/ss_9_10_14_Ward_Bridge-ferry-owner_.mp3

* Listen to our conversation with Gregg Ward above.

Originally posted by: Michigan Radio

More empty Promises from Moroun?

Michigan Central Station, a well-known symbol of Detroit’s decay, is
expected to get $80 million in renovations over the next three years,
according to a top aide to depot owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun.

The revelation was made by Moroun associate Dan Stamper as he went
before the Detroit City Council last week to discuss alternative plans
to the city selling land needed for a new bridge to Canada.

The bridge — known as the New International Trade Crossing — could put
thousands of people to work in southeast Michigan and revitalize the
trade corridor with Canada. It would connect highways in Detroit and
Windsor, relieving traffic congestion for commercial trucks and other
vehicles.

Moroun, who controls the Ambassador Bridge, unsuccessfully sued a
number of federal officials and the Canadian government in a bid to
block the building of the rival bridge.

In 2012, he spent more than $33 million to support Proposal 6, which
would have required a statewide vote before a public crossing could be
built across the Detroit River. Voters rejected the proposal.

The state offered $1.4 million for 301 city-owned parcels needed for
the bridge project to proceed. The council rejected the deal, in part,
over concerns the sale price was too low. Emergency manager Kevyn Orr
is expected to approve the sale anyway. But the council can propose an
alternative plan this week to a state emergency loan board.

As an alternative to the state’s offer, Stamper offered $1.5 million
for the land in the Delray community in southwest Detroit, plus $1
million to help fix up the community.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said she
was happy to see Moroun’s associate promise to help that community.

“There is one building that you all have not demolished,” Jenkins said
of the depot. “Whenever they show the demise of Detroit there are two
buildings they always show — one is the Packard Plant, the other is
the train station.”

“We are going to renovate the train depot,” Stamper replied. “It’s
probably another three years to secure the building watertight.”

He said the offer is not an attempt to block the bridge project. He
said a second Ambassador Bridge would be built without disturbing the
Delray community.

The council, however, showed no interest in pursuing Moroun’s offer
for the Delray land.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Jenkins didn’t seem impressed with Stamper’s
description of plans to renovate the train station.

“That’s a pledge that I’ve heard multiple times,” Jenkins said.

Originally posted in the: Detroit Free Press

Moroun low-balls Detroit, but city too smart to fall for it

The last time billionaire Manuel (Matty) Moroun tried to derail a new bridge to Canada, he spent $33 million.

This time, he’s angling for a deal. Moroun’s latest attempt to throw a wrench in the works of the New International Trade Crossing — the proposed-but-not-yet-built public span to Canada — is an offer to buy 301 city-owned parcels of land in southwest Detroit for the low, low price of $2.5 million. The land in question is essential to the state’s bridge-building effort, and Moroun’s offer is about $1.1 million more than the State of Michigan offered to pay.

Selling the land to Moroun would be a terrible plan under any circumstances — the kind of short-term thinking that’s focused on inconsequential short-term benefit at the expense of long-term health and stability.

Moroun owns more property than almost any private landowner in the city. He’s also one of the city’s most flagrant blight violators. (If you’d like to see a sample of his work, check out the decaying Michigan Central Station.)

Detroit’s nonprofit and municipal communities have worked diligently to develop a better land-use strategy for Detroit, empowering the city’s land bank to sell dilapidated properties at auction to homeowners who want to live in the city, with the side effect of making property unavailable to the bulk buyers who rake in hundreds of properties every year at the annual tax-foreclosure auction and do nothing with them.

We’ve seen the development of the Detroit Future City plan, a new framework for land use in the city. And Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has consolidated and streamlined the city’s blight-enforcement operation, stepping up the pace of code enforcement and demolition.

But at this price? Frankly, it’s insulting.

Moroun, 83, is the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, one of Detroit’s two border crossings to Canada. The aging Ambassador Bridge is in bad shape, and subject to frequent traffic clogs; Moroun wants to build a second span in the same location. The state wants to build a second, publicly owned span in a different location, in conjunction with Canada. Canada will foot much of the project’s cost.

Moroun, obviously, would like to continue his bridge monopoly, and is willing to pay to do it … but not that much. This time, anyway. I mean, let’s keep in mind that Moroun is No. 352 on the Forbes 400, a list of the country’s wealthiest individuals, and has a net worth of $1.5 billion. And don’t forget that, two years ago, he spent $33 million in an attempt to pass a statewide proposal barring construction of any new, public border crossing without a popular vote.

So, for Moroun to offer $2.5 million this time, well, it’s kind of chump change.

For what it’s worth, the Detroit City Council has given short shrift to Moroun’s offer, and indicated during a Thursday session that his pitch isn’t on the table. The council also rejected the sale of the land to the state, saying the neighborhood development agreement negotiated by Mayor Mike Duggan’s team doesn’t do enough to protect residents. Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr will likely push the sale through without council’s approval, with a community benefits agreement to be developed during the bidding for bridge construction and concessions.

Selling 301 properties to Moroun at any price would be disastrous, a return to the kind of thinking that has helped make Detroit a hodgepodge of stable neighborhoods and blighted, emptying blocks. Rationalizing land use — that’s where Detroit’s healthy future lies. Not in moving property for a pittance.

Originally posted in the: Detroit Free Press