Students arrive at Southwestern High School before it was closed. (Charles V. Tines / Detroit News)
Lansing — A state board gave preliminary approval Friday to the Detroit Public Schools emergency manager’s plan to sell the former Southwestern High School for $1 million to a developer who plans a mixed-use residential and business redevelopment at the site.
On a 3-0 vote, the state’s Emergency Loan Board accepted DPS Emergency Manager Jack Martin’s plan over an alternative bid of $1.175 million submitted by a subsidiary of Crown Enterprises Inc., a Warren-based real estate company owned by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun.
But Moroun could have another shot at buying the property because Martin said the school district would seek the best and final offers from all bidders. DPS officials want to sell the 99-year-old school and 16-acre site along West Fort Street to Bingham Farms-based ProVisions LLC for $1.05 million.
The state panel will have to consider the final bid before the property can be sold, said Tom Saxton, a deputy state treasurer who represented Treasurer Kevin Clinton on the loan board.
Moroun’s bid was solicited by the Detroit school board, which submitted the plan as an alternative to the emergency manager’s plan for disposing of the surplus property.
One member of the state board expressed concern that Moroun’s development company, 6500 15 Mile Road LLC, and another company were able to submit higher bids knowing how much ProVisions proposed paying for the property.
“I am somewhat troubled by the fact a group of bidders had a bid to start a development offer,” said Mike Zimmer, chief deputy director of the Department Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Zimmer was filling in for department director Steve Arwood at the board meeting.
Detroit school board President LaMar Lemmons III protested Martin’s plans for a new round of bidding, arguing the school board followed the state emergency manager law’s procedures for offering an alternative proposal.
“We’ll be right back here again,” Lemmons said.
Under state law, when a governing body submits a counterproposal to a state-appointed emergency manager’s plan to sell property for more than $50,000, the state loan board decides which proposal is in the best interest of the community.
DPS officials said they planned to sell the building to ProVisions after no other bidders came forward.
But the Detroit Board of Education rejected Martin’s plan in January and solicited its own bids.
The former Southwestern High School, which was closed in June 2012, is near the planned site of a new bridge to Canada that would compete with Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge for lucrative truck traffic.
No representative for ProVisions spoke at the hearing, and a company official could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Apple Financial LLC submitted a third bid to the school board for $1.1 million to demolish the building and convert it into a shipping and logistics center, according to the company’s attorney, Kenneth Beams.
Moroun’s real estate development company proposed to use half of the building for business office space and half for nonprofit entities, such as an adult education center.
Lemmons said the school board opposed ProVisions’ and Apple Financial’s plans because both could lead to Southwestern High School being razed. “We don’t want the building demolished,” he said.
During public comment, Beams questioned Moroun’s motivations and commitment to keeping half of the former high school open to community and nonprofit groups. In criticizing Moroun’s redevelopment track record, he cited the billionaire’s vast land holdings in Windsor and Detroit, including the Michigan Central Depot.
“He’s done nothing and he’s all of a sudden found Jesus and wants to do something for the neighborhood?” Beams said. “This is a guy who has destroyed neighborhoods in two different countries — that’s pretty hard to do.”
Beams’ comments caused two of Moroun’s representatives to defend their boss’s commitment to redeveloping the former train station in Corktown.
Paul Opsommer, a former state representative who now lobbies for Moroun’s trucking company, said more than $5 million in repairs have been made to the station, including restoration of electrical service and lights and installation of safety cameras and a construction elevator.
“There’s no crime against someone wanting to own an asset and waiting for an opportunity to do something with it,” said Michael Samhat, president of Crown Enterprises. “I beg to differ with the speaker who took a shot at the Moroun family.”