The old coliseum sits on the fairgrounds. Developers can begin seeking tenants, promoting the property and selling off buildings. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
Detroit — A plan by athlete-turned-entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson to redevelop the Michigan State Fairgrounds into a site with a movie theater, housing and restaurants will proceed.
The Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority decided Wednesday to sell the land at Woodward and Eight Mile to Johnson and his group for $4.65 million — about the site’s appraised value.
During a meeting, the authority approved a purchase agreement and a letter of intent that says the developers will consider issues of public safety, green spaces, parking and transit.
“Moving on this is to the advantage of the city, the state and the developer of the property,” said board chairwoman Deborah Muchmore. “Beyond that sort of economic development piece, it’s also a vital part of how we restore a healthy, safe, better neighborhood of the people who live around there.”
Johnson, a Lansing native, Michigan State basketball great and part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, is working with Lansing businessman Joel Ferguson and Detroit entrepreneur Marvin Beatty in putting together a mixed-use project.
The 157-acre development is expected to include retail businesses, townhouses and a senior living complex, as well as a grocery store and a small park. The developers did not submit a new site plan at the meeting, saying they would seek community input on uses.
A spokesman for Redico, the Southfield-based master developer for the project, held up a blank sheet of paper to represent the company’s site plan.
“The vision is truly for a mixed-use development,” Redico’s Bruce Babiarz said. “This is not a build-it-and-they-will-come. We want community input.”
Tami Salisbury, executive director of the Eight Mile Boulevard Association, says her organization is looking forward to the new development.
“We do want to be involved in the design elements, and as I understand there will be a chance for that,” Salisbury said. “We’re excited to be part of that process and incorporate some of our vision for the fairgrounds.”
Not everyone is pleased about the plan.
Mark Johnson of the State Fair Development Coalition said the land bank board is “foolish” to award the contract to Magic Plus LLC because the plan ignores public transit, focuses on big-box stores and parking spaces, and does not include a plan for mixed-use development, including a residential area.
“This land, it’s the perfect opportunity and it sits at the right place, and here they’re taking it to the lowest denominator,” Johnson said. “It’s almost criminal what’s being done if they transfer this land and ignore transit and a residential community here.”
Ferguson, the managing partner for Magic Plus LLC, said the coalition is “misrepresenting” the Magic Plus development plan, which he said will include a transit center, plenty of green space and the renovation of some old State Fair buildings on site.
“We’re going to work in a plan where everybody who wants can be a part of it,” Ferguson said.
The developers have 90 days to submit a plan. The land bank board decision Wednesday allows them to begin seeking tenants, promoting the property and selling off buildings to obtain capital. The sale will be closed Jan. 1, 2015, when the developers must have taken control of the property.
Under the agreement, the state would be given a certain percentage of the developers’ profits from the property.
In a statement, Mayor Dave Bing praised the land bank authority’s approval of the sale.
“The State Fairgrounds site has sat idle for four years, so it is encouraging to now have a plan approved for its redevelopment,” Bing said.
Then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm cut funding for the fair in 2009.
Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, did not respond to a request for comment. Bill Nowling, spokesman for Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, declined to comment.
The project is expected to be adjacent to another Redico development, the 350,000-square-foot Gateway Marketplace along Eight Mile and Woodward, which includes a Meijer anchor store, Marshalls and K & G fashions stores.
Bob Lang, 75, a lifelong resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, said the fairgrounds were part of many Michiganians’ lives.
“So many things have gone on there. We had Evel Knievel. Frank Sinatra. President Kennedy spoke there,” Lang said. “My suggestion is you put this whole thing on hold until a viable plan is put in place.”
Marcus Cummings, vice president of Schaefer 78 Lodge Association, a group representing the neighborhood west of the site, said his organization wants the development on Woodward to extend to other parts of Eight Mile.
“Our hope is that this project will bring development down our way and take away the stigma of Eight Mile as a red light district or just a used car lot,” Cummings said. “All those memories of the great times at the State Fair, they are just that. They’re memories. Time for us to move on, move forward and break ground on this project.”