Land transfer deal for new border bridge approved

DETROIT (AP) — The state has approved Detroit’s transfer of 301 city-owned properties to a Michigan land bank authority in exchange for $1.4 million from the Canadian government as part of plans for an international commuter bridge.

The proposal was approved Friday in Lansing by the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board.

All of the properties are in southwest Detroit and within the footprint of the New International Trade Crossing over the Detroit River between the city and Windsor, Ontario.

Canada is paying most of the $2 billion project’s cost and plans to recoup the money through tolls. Officials say they hope to open the bridge in 2020.

The loan board also approved transactions Friday that will help Detroit settle financial claims as the city goes through its bankruptcy.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: The Times Herald

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

Most hurdles in way of bridge have been overcome

The struggle has taken years, but most of the hurdles in the way of a new Detroit River bridge have been overcome. Agreements have been signed; the site chosen, environmental and presidential permits issued.

True, Washington has yet to appropriate the $250 million needed for a customs plaza, and Matty Moroun, the 87-year-old owner of the Ambassador Bridge, is still having attorneys file a seemingly endless procession of nuisance suits.
However, few think these are serious concerns. But there is one more solution yet to be worked out: Making things right for the people in the old Detroit neighborhood where new bridge’s American footprint used to be, a neighborhood known as Delray,

“We aren’t asking for swimming pools or anything outrageous,” said Simone Sagovac, the voice of a group called the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition. “We are concerned with things like air quality, noise abatement and jobs,” she said.

Her concerns aren’t surprising. Detroit has a long history of trampling over and ignoring community groups when major developments are on the table.

Earlier this summer, for example, Detroit City Council refused to require a community benefits agreement of any kind in connection with the new hockey arena being built by Olympia Entertainment, owned by the Ilitch family of Little Caesar’s Pizza fame.

That was case even though the bankrupt city “sold” the land to the billionaire, for a dollar. But when it came to the bridge project, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr offered the city a better deal in July: He wanted the city council to sell 301 city-owned parcels of land in and around where the American-side the “footprint” of the new bridge would be. This time, however, Detroit would get $1.4 million.

While the land would technically be sold to the state, the money is actually being put up by the government of Canada, which is covering all Michigan’s costs. (Those funds are to be repaid years from now, out of the state’s share of the new bridge’s toll fees.)

But at the last minute, the emergency manager pulled back the request, after it became clear that city council wasn’t ready to approve it. Why? For the first time in a century, most council members are elected from districts, rather than at large.

Raquel Castenada-Lopez is the newly elected council member from the district that includes both bridge sites. Detroit’s first-ever Hispanic councilwoman doesn’t want the land transfer to go through without some guarantee of benefits for those living there.

“For me, it is all about supporting the community,” she told me last week. Back in the neighborhood, Simone Sagovac is trying to look out for people who have had a long history of hard times.

Before the Great Depression, Delray was a thriving Hungarian-American community with nearly ten times the 2,783 people it had in the last census. Gradually, factories closed and people left. Gangs, crime, and foul smells from a wastewater treatment plant drove more people away.

In recent years, even if anyone had wanted to help develop the area, talk of a new bridge — and uncertainty about where the precise “footprint” would be — would have been enough to drive them off.

Canadian diplomats are eager for these concerns to be satisfactorily addressed, but have to walk a fine line. They do not want to be seen as criticizing America or meddling in domestic policy.

On the other hand, they want to see justice done — and most of all, they want to get on with the bridge, which will open in 2020 at the earliest. Last year, then-Canadian Consul General Roy Norton told the Southwest Detroit Business Association Canada would insist that the public-private partnership that will build and run the bridge “establish and maintain mechanisms to understand and address community concerns.”

Eventually, he added, when companies bid to get the contract to actually build the bridge, they will have to explain “how they would reach out to the community, be a good neighbor, employ locally and so forth.” Plus, explain “what kind of community outreach the consortium would be undertaking so as to minimize detrimental impacts for items such as vibration, noise, traffic routing …”

To Sagovac, that all sounds good in theory. But Norton has now gone off to another post in Chicago, and in any event, she has to deal with local and state governments in this country. She knows all about noise and air pollution. She doesn’t actually live in Delray, but for the last 23 years, has lived near the Ambassador Bridge, where trucks can sometimes be stacked up for hours, belching fumes and keeping people awake with their engines.

Her coalition is not against a new bridge, she hastens to say. In fact, they have no use for Moroun, who once panicked Delray residents by having phony eviction notices put on their homes.

They just don’t want their tough lives to get any tougher. A well-placed source in Canada said he could “understand why folks in Delray have difficulty summoning trust.”

But they added that “patience, faith and trust all are called for here.” The worry is that somehow, misguided zeal on behalf of the residents could cause Detroit City Council to stall a project vital to the business interests and future economies of both nations.

Last month, Sagovac asked for a meeting with the newly appointed International Authority which will oversee the construction of the new bridge. She is still waiting for an answer.

Detroit City Council is expected to be finally formally asked about transferring the land, presumably sometime this month.

The key to the future may lie in what happens then.

Written by Jack Lessenberry in the: Traverse City, Record-Eagle

Purchase of first U.S. properties for new border bridge close

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Detroit’s city council is being asked to approve the sale of 301 properties needed for a new border crossing bridge to Windsor.

They will be the first properties acquired on the U.S. side if Detroit council approves the request by emergency manager Kevyn Orr, as expected within the next 10 days.

The properties are largely vacant, “tax-reverted” parcels with a total price tag of $1.4 million.

The state of Michigan would be the new owner of the properties, which the Canadian government would buy from it for the $2.1-billion Detroit River International Crossing project. Ottawa has budgeted $631 million over the next two years for the project, including the land purchases.

Canada has committed to paying Michigan’s share of the project cost, up to $550 million, to buy land and build a feeder road linking the bridge plaza in Detroit to the I-75 freeway.

The government expects to recoup its investment through tolls.

The Windsor-Detroit Detroit Bridge Authority was established last month to get the project moving. It has already staged a handful of meetings and has plans to establish an office in Windsor and begin hiring about three dozen staff in the coming weeks.

“The WDBA continues to work with our Michigan colleagues to advance this important project,” said authority CEO Michael Cautillo said Thursday. “All involved are encouraged that the issue will be considered by Detroit’s council.”

The DRIC bridge, scheduled to open in 2020, will link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach in Windsor and Delray in Detroit.

Nearly all property required on the Canadian side for the project has been acquired by Transport Canada.

In total, there are roughly 1,000 residential and commercial properties that need to be expropriated and purchased for the bridge, plaza and feeder roads in Delray.

It is anticipated the overall cost for those properties will be about $300 million — roughly the same amount spent in Windsor to buy land for the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway.

The parkway – the new border feeder highway that will link with the DRIC bridge – is expected to be completed late next year.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

In new Canadian bridge deal, Detroit, Lansing, and Washington continue to drag their feet

Douglas George, Canada’s new consul general in Detroit, is a patient man. He’s had to be. A lifetime diplomat, he’s sat through trade negotiations all over the world, negotiating agreements on intellectual property and softwood lumber.

Most recently, he served for three years as Canada’s ambassador to Kuwait. Now, at 56, he presides over what is actually a mini-embassy in the Renaissance Center — and waits for us to finish getting it together for a new bridge over the Detroit River.

A bridge, that is, that both countries need, that will create thousands of jobs, and that Canada is willing to pay for.

However, Detroit, Lansing, and Washington are costing us money and time by dragging their feet and screwing things up.

To Canada, Detroit is the most economically important border crossing, period. More than a billion dollars a week in freight, mainly heavy automotive components, passes over the aging Ambassador Bridge, completed in 1930.

There is no alternative. Trucking this stuff to Port Huron or Buffalo wouldn’t be cost-effective. You can’t take it through the tunnel. Other than that, there’s just one tiny barge, which takes trucks loaded with hazardous chemicals.

The economies of both nations desperately need a new bridge for security and the future. Even if the Ambassador could be rebuilt, it’s in the wrong place. Trucks crossing over have to endure surface streets and 16 traffic lights before reaching Highway 401, Ontario’s rough equivalent of I-75.

For years, business and governments have fought with Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, who has tried everything to protect his monopoly and stop a new bridge. For years, he managed to do just that, principally by confusing the public and buying off lawmakers with campaign and other contributions.

However, in the last few years, the tide has turned, in large part due to Gov. Rick Snyder standing up to Moroun. Then, too, Canada is footing the bill for all of Michigan’s expenses, with the vague understanding that the state will pay the money back someday out of our share of the toll revenue. Now, essentially only two problems remain:

Washington has to come up with about a quarter-billion to pay for the necessary customs plaza (Canada being another nation, after all). Canadians find the delay somewhat baffling, but as George told me last week, “We don’t want to give the impression that we’re trying to hurry the U.S government.”

But there’s also the question of the neighborhood.

Canada has assembled all the land they need for the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge’s footprint on their side of the border. But this isn’t true on the American side.

The NITC would land squarely in Delray, a once-thriving, multi-ethnic community in Southwest Detroit. Even Delray’s biggest boosters would admit it’s seen better days.

Delray’s population is a shadow of what it once was. Many homes have been abandoned for years, or are vacant lots. Those who remain think it only fair that they get something in return for their aggravation and the families that will be displaced.

Everybody connected with the new bridge has promised good things are coming, but they haven’t been exactly eager to commit to anything. Consequently, the residents have banded together as the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition. They want a share of the jobs.

They want a new recreation center for their kids, and they want some pledges put in writing. They know that if that doesn’t happen, they’re likely to get what they’ve been getting: little or nothing.

In past years, it was easy for city officials to steamroll and ignore any particular neighborhood. But Detroit has district council members now, and one of them, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, represents the people of Delray.

She wants to make sure they get something out of this multibillion-dollar project. Late last month, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr was all set to have City Council approve the sale of 301 city-owned parcels of Delray land to the state of Michigan, which would be buying them for $1.4 million with money provided by Canada, to be used for the bridge.

But Castenada-Lopez wanted a community-benefits agreement first, and it was clear that her colleagues agreed.

The Emergency Manager then, for the first and only time, pulled the request back. “It’s an international agreement, (but) I think you need support from the host community to move it forward,” Casteneda-Lopez said.

The councilwoman, who didn’t get back to me in time for this column, was to meet with Delray residents this week, presumably about what might be possible.

Douglas George, now Canada’s main point man on the bridge, said he wasn’t frustrated. On the contrary. Back in the 1970s, as a teenager growing up in Sarnia, he and his friends came to Detroit every chance they got for concerts.

George loves Detroit. And although he’s been saddened by its decline, he’s excited by how fast things seem to be getting better now. And he and his government want to make sure the bridge gets built.

If it doesn’t, everyone loses, and there will be only community harms, not benefits. Finessing this one will take diplomatic skills on all sides, not just from the Canadians.

Originally posted by the: Metro Times

Canada’s new consul general is determined to build a new Detroit River bridge

I had a conversation yesterday with Douglas George, the Canadian government’s new consul general in Detroit.

For Canada, this area is an economic region important enough to merit a mini-embassy. Ottawa has a vast suite of offices in the Renaissance Center, and a large staff, some busy with immigration matters, and the rest primarily with economic and trade questions.

One indication of how important Canada sees Detroit is that Consul George was most recently their ambassador to Kuwait, and before that was a major trade negotiator who at various times headed both their government’s tariff and intellectual property divisions.

Here, he is responsible for trade and other issues involving a five-state area economically vital to Canada.

Detroit is, without any doubt, the most important border crossing between our two nations, and businesses on both sides of the border, especially Canada, have been consumed by the need for a second bridge capable of handling major freight.

Every week, well over a billion dollars in heavy automotive and other manufacturing components pass over the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge. There is no other economically and geographically feasible way of moving this stuff.

Nor is the current bridge in a sensible location, especially for Canada. Trucks coming from Detroit have to endure 16 red lights before connecting with a major highway.

For years, any new crossing was stymied by Matty Moroun, the billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge.

But now both governments have agreed to build one, now known as the New International Trade Crossing. They aren’t quite home free yet. Washington has yet to agree to fund the customs plaza needed for what will be a major outpost between two nations.

And the consul told me Michigan has not yet finished buying and assembling all the parcels of land needed for the bridge’s footprint on the American side. Canada needs this bridge so much that it has agreed to foot all the upfront costs.

Michigan, in turn, will pay them back years from now out of the state’s share of the tolls. But legally, our state has to buy the land, which is in Delray, a rundown neighborhood a couple of miles south of the current bridge.

However, there are hangups. Much of the land is owned by Detroit, and some council members are insisting on a defined package of community benefits.

Clearly, bridges aren’t built in a day. Douglas George is philosophical about this, and says he thinks the new bridge could still be open for business by the target date of 2020.

His father was an attorney in Sarnia, right across the river from Port Huron, and spent something like a quarter-century on a commission striving to get a new bridge built there. If you are a diplomat, it helps to take the long view.

For George, this post is almost a homecoming. Growing up, he came to Detroit every chance he got to see concerts.

The city’s decline saddened him, but he told me yesterday he was happily amazed by how fast things seemed to be turning around.

He hopes that before long, a new generation of Canadian kids will be streaming in to the revitalized city, some of them over a new bridge.

Originally Posted by: Michigan Radio

‘Major announcement’ to be made about new Windsor-Detroit bridge

A “major announcement” will be made Wednesday in Windsor regarding the New International Trade Crossing.

A source tells CTV Windsor that Canada’s Transport Minister, Lisa Raitt and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will announce the bodies that will oversee the NITC project. A bridge authority and an international authority will be responsible for things like land acquisitions and procurement going forward.

The announcement will be made at the Canadian Club Heritage Centre in Windsor at 10:30 a.m.

On Monday, Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr delayed the proposed transfer of 301 properties to the Michigan Land Bank in exchange for $1.4 million from the Canadian Government.The city of Detroit is currently under bankruptcy protection.

The $2 billion NITC is expected to open in 2020.

Originally posted by CTV Windsor

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