New Michigan senator poised to lead fight and secure new bridge plaza funding

The Windsor Star
Dave Battagello

Newly elected Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) listed securing $250 million for a U.S. Customs plaza for the new Detroit River bridge as a top priority Tuesday just before being sworn into office.

Peters, a Detroit-area congressman elected as freshman senator in November to replace retiring political stalwart Carl Levin, has long been a primary advocate to get construction started on the $2.1-billion Detroit River International Crossing project.

In his new role as senator, he called the DRIC bridge critical for both the Michigan and U.S. economies during a conference call with reporters.

“The international trade crossing is perhaps the most important infrastructure project in the whole country,” Peters said. “I will continue to push very aggressively for that.”

Peters has already secured a seat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — a key entity in Washington that decides spending and legislative priorities.

Peters indicated Tuesday he is also working hard to develop a relationship with Homeland Security boss Jeh Johnson — who DRIC supporters have been tirelessly lobbying to put money in the budget for the customs plaza in Detroit.

“(Johnson) just saw me in the hallway, raised his hand, and said ‘I know, I know, the bridge, the bridge,’” Peters said. “He knows where I’m coming from. It’s a priority. It’s something I’m going to continue to push very hard for.”

Peters will also sit on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, among others.

Committees are “quite influential” in terms of decision-making in Washington, said Bill Anderson, a Boston native and director of the University of Windsor’s cross-border institute.

“It varies from committee to committee, but in the American system, most of the give and take takes place in committees,” he said. “Whether you are in the House or Senate, getting a seat on the right committees is something every legislator really strives for.

“(Peters) having a seat on Homeland Security is a great thing. He can be a strong voice on the (bridge) issue. I hope he not only can appeal to the Senate, but also administration (under President Obama) in his own party.”

Peters also spoke at length Tuesday about ongoing concerns of petroleum coke — a byproduct from Canada’s oilsands. He was a political leader over a year ago to help remove massive piles of petcoke from the riverfront in Detroit.

Peters indicated he remains opposed to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada into the U.S. largely because of the petcoke issue.

“Petcoke on the Detroit River was not handled properly — it was blowing into people’s homes and businesses,” he said. “Detroit was just an example of what may happen if the Keystone pipeline goes all the way into New Orleans.

“We need a study on petcoke to determine its effects and best practices on how to handle it. I want to go from no standards to best standards.”

Local MP Brian Masse (NDP–Windsor-West) said having a seat on such influential committees gives Peters a chance to “steer the ship” and set the agenda on “issues he wants to focus on.”

“Having this (Windsor-Detroit) border reinforced in Washington is critical,” Masse said. “It has not been getting the attention it deserves. Having him there can make a difference. Just raising the issues and bringing it there is a critical component to getting any change.

“If someone can do this, it would be him. I’m confident in his abilities. He will bring this region to Washington. He is one of those type of guys. He has a real genuine interest in the area.”

Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Chamber — also active in lobbying to build the DRIC bridge — believes it will definitely make a difference with Peters in place as “someone who has really been engaged on the issue.”

He cited Peters’ being able to secure a seat on the homeland security committee, previously introducing legislation last term as a congressman to get funding for the bridge plaza, plus his growing ties with Johnson as positive signs.

Baruah said he believes it won’t be necessary for Canada to pay for the DRIC customs plaza — as Ottawa hinted it will do if delays continue.

“I really don’t think it will come to that,” Baruah said. “We have been working closely with the (Michigan) governor (Rick Snyder) and we think there are things afoot to ensure Canada does not have to pay for it.

“That would be embarrassing if that were the case. Canadians have already done a lot of heavy lifting on this project. Our position is this is U.S. infrastructure required for the U.S. government, so the U.S. government should pay for it.”

Originally posted by The Windsor Star

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

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