$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

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

Awaiting word from feds, NITC officials continue prep work for Detroit River bridge

While officials await word from Washington that it will pay for its toll plaza for the New International Trade Crossing, the prep work continues for the new bridge across the Detroit River on both sides of the border.

“They are still pretty much keeping on schedule, but they are having to work around the fact they don’t have the federal funds yet,” said Tom Shields, New International Trade Crossing coalition spokesman and president of Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group. “In order for this thing to really launch, they need the commitment of the dollars for the toll plaza.”

That amounts to about $264 million, but there have been no guarantees the federal government will come through with the funding. The Canadian government is paying for everything else related to the $2 billion project.

As the lobbying for that funding continues by state officials and members of the congressional delegation, the Michigan and Canadian governments are doing everything else they can to keep the project moving for targeted completion by 2020.

The state is close to finalizing its first land acquisition, which will represent about 30 percent of the parcels needed to locate the bridge landing and toll plaza.

Earlier this week, the Detroit City Council rejected the state’s offer of $1.4 million for 301 parcels in the Delray neighborhood where the new bridge will land, but Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr plans to approve it anyway, which he has the authority to do under state law.

But the council can prepare an alternative plan for the state’s emergency loan board to consider next week, similar to what it did when the state was considering the leasing of Belle Isle. The board rejected the council’s Belle Isle plan and went with Orr’s plan to lease the park to the state.

Part of the council’s counterproposal is expected to include its idea for a community benefits package for the residents of Delray, something Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who represents the area, has always sought.

She said the package should include funding to help rehabilitate some of the most dilapidated of the 2,000 homes that will remain in the area surrounding the new bridge. Once the bridge is in place and the increased truck traffic commences, Tlaib said, those homes are never going to be able to increase their property values without assistance.

While the bridge project references having a community benefit component, she said it is not defined.

She said she does not want the vendor to just plant some trees and then be able to check off a box that it provided “community benefits.”

“We really want something sustainable,” she said. “We don’t people to cross that border and see poverty and decay and blight. We want people to come across and see Pure Michigan, Pure Detroit, see a really thriving border community.”

Another wrinkle in the land acquisition appears to have had little effect.

At this week’s council meeting, Ambassador Bridge Co. President Dan Stamper presented a plan to outbid the state and purchase the parcels for $1.5 million, with another $1 million to begin rebuilding homes in the neighborhood.

That offer was met with skepticism from council members and was not accepted.

Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun has always opposed the new bridge, and has spent millions doing so. His company has also purchased some of the parcels that the state will need to acquire before moving forward with construction.

Those properties will take longer to acquire, Shields said, as the state is expected to have to use eminent domain to obtain them.

Because the Legislature did not allow the state to spend money to purchase property, the state is doing the negotiating for the land purchases, then after the six-member International Authority approves the purchase, the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority will pay for the land.

The International Authority, which consists of three members each from Michigan and Canada, was created in 2012 as part of a border-crossing agreement the two governments signed that year. The bridge authority, also created in 2012, is a not-for-profit crown corporation which reports to the Canadian Parliament through the Minister of Transport.

The Canadian government has acquired about 80 percent of the properties it needs, and land acquisition is expected to be completed in the next year and a half, with the possibility of a four-year construction period beginning sometime in 2016.

 

Originally posted in: Crain’s Detroit Business

Detroit EM To Go Ahead With Land Sale For New US-Canada Bridge Despite Objections

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The Detroit City Council might not like a proposal to sell 301 city-owned properties to build a new bridge between the U.S. and Canada — but that’s not going to stop state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

The council on Tuesday unanimously rejected the $1.4 million deal to make way for a new commuter bridge to Windsor, Ontario, saying the proposal did nothing to protect the Delray neighborhood or its nearly 900 residents who would be forced to move.

Orr is expected to push the deal through, anyway.

Under Michigan state law, Orr has the power to veto council’s vote and go ahead with the sale. Otherwise, the council would have until Sept. 16 to submit an alternative plan. A state emergency loan board would then decide between Orr’s original plan and the council’s counter-offer.

The U.S. State Department approved the bridge project last year, but construction hasn’t started yet. Canada is paying most of the $2 billion project’s cost on both sides of the border and plans to recoup the money through tolls.

The new span would cross the Detroit River about two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge, from the Brighton Beach neighborhood in Windsor to the Delray neighborhood in Detroit. Officials say they hope to open the bridge in 2020.

The project is opposed by the owner of the existing Ambassador Bridge, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, whose family wants to build its own second span. Records show the Moroun family has spent over $1 million since 2009 in their fight to stop a new government-owned span.

An estimated 2.7 million trucks pass through the Detroit-Windsor crossing, carrying $120-billion worth of goods annually.

Originally posted by: CBS Detroit

Moroun offers city $1 million to give up 10,000 jobs.

DETROIT – Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun has launched a bidding war – with an offer of $1.1 million more than what the state of Michigan offered the city of Detroit – to gain control of 301 parcels of municipal land required for the new bridge.

A real estate company under Moroun’s control – Real Estate Purchasing LLC – would pay $1.5 million for the properties, donate an additional $1 million to the city for redevelopment of the lands, then hand the parcels back to the city of Detroit for redevelopment, according to a written offer sent to Detroit city council by Dan Stamper, president of the Ambassador Bridge.

The lands were priced at $1.4 million just last week when the city’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr requested Detroit’s council approve the sale of the properties – which are largely vacant parcels acquired through non-payment of taxes.

Under that plan, the state of Michigan would be the new owner of the properties with the Canadian government reimbursing the $1.4 million purchase price to the state.

Ottawa has budgeted $631 million over the next two years for the planned Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project to be used to fund the land purchase.

The bridge would link the downriver industrial communities of Brighton Beach and Delray with a scheduled opening of 2020.

Should Detroit’s council approve Orr’s request it would be the first properties acquired on the U.S. side for the DRIC project.

But on Monday, the bridge company threw a wrench into Orr’s plan with its much higher offer.

Stamper said there were many benefits to the Ambassador Bridge’s proposed deal, in an emailed statement to the Star. He said Detroit would be able to keep joint control over the 301 parcels of land and have “a real opportunity” to rebuild and improve the Delray neighbourhood. He added the city would be able to collect taxes on the parcels of land, “unlike the State offer to remove all property from the tax rolls in perpetuity.”

“This is an opportunity for our companies to work collaboratively with Detroit and residents of Southwest Detroit in a sincere effort which benefits both parties,” Stamper said.

The Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority (WDBA) is the newly formed local entity to oversee construction of the bridge project, but its top official referred questions about the proposed land sale to the office of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder since it is a proposed deal between the state and city of Detroit.

“The WDBA continues to work with our Michigan colleagues to advance this important project,” said MIke Cautillo, CEO for the authority. “We look forward to a resolution so that the project, which is so important the communities and the economies on both sides of the border, can proceed.”

Despite the higher bid, Snyder’s office is confident the city will do what’s best for residents in that area.

“The city is not obligated to select the highest bidder, but rather the option that is in the city’s best interest,” said David Murray, spokesman for Snyder.

Despite the better financial offer from the bridge owner – who has fought to stop the DRIC bridge project to protect $60 million in annual toll revenues – the new DRIC crossing offers “important benefits” for Delray, he countered.

“The state has worked closely with Mayor (Mike) Duggan and the community to draft a comprehensive Neighborhood Development Agreement that states numerous commitments will be made to both residents of Delray and Detroiters more broadly,” said Murray, who sits on the DRIC project team.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) has been fighting hard to ensure both job opportunities and improvements to the Delray community are guaranteed by agreements before construction gets started on the DRIC bridge.

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 price spent in Windsor to buy lands necessary to make room for the $1.4-billion Herb Gray Parkway.

Originally posted by: The Windsor Star

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