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Plans detail development ideas for fairgrounds site

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Detroit — Development is moving ahead at the former state fairgrounds site, now owned by the development company belonging to basketball star-turned-businessman Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

The developers released details of specific buildings at a public meeting Wednesday night, showing for the first time how the spaces should look once complete. This included plans for the site's existing three historical buildings: the Coliseum, which could be turned into a theater; the Field House building; and the Dairy Cattle Building.

The plan calls for apartments and townhouses, senior living, big-box retailers, smaller artisan stores, restaurants and breweries, green spaces and pocket parks, transit areas and, on the south side of the site, offices and space for Wayne County Community College.

"What's missing today from this market are the younger students and the young professionals who are electing to either go to downtown Detroit or way into the suburbs," said Craig Willian, vice president of retail development who was presenting the plans on behalf of Redico, one of the partners on the project. "This competes at a much higher level because it affords an urban feel and a suburban retail experience."

Magic Plus development group and its partners are marketing the 157-acre property as a $200 million "live, work and play" community on what is now vacant property on the city's northern border.

Developers also include Joel Ferguson, a Lansing developer and chairman of the Michigan State University board of trustees; and Marvin Beatty, a Detroit-based developer. More than 50 people attended Wednesday night's meeting to voice their opinions on the project.

Mass transit was a sticking point for many community members who spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.

Detroiter Nancy Varner, 75, who has lived near the fairgrounds for 50 years, says she's disappointed in the lack of attention paid to transit on the site. She says it should be a "center point of the development, and not an afterthought."

Magic Plus LLC and Redico, developers on the state fairgrounds project reveal the first renderings of the planned site Wednesday during a public meeting at Cadillac Place in Detroit’s New Center area.

"Don't throw us a bone and expect us to be happy it's there," said Varner. "We want something that will enhance our community and serve the people who live there."

Dan Dirks, director of the Detroit Department of Transportation, praised the development but said having a bus rapid transit center at State Fair Avenue would force people to walk half a mile to transfer to other buses.

"We overwhelmingly would like to see development in the city of Detroit," said Dirks. "We'd just like to see public transit higher up on the list of priorities."

Southfield-based Redico already helped develop the adjacent Gateway Marketplace along Eight Mile and Woodward, which includes a Meijer anchor store, Marshalls and K&G fashions stores. Beatty was also part of the Gateway project.

The former fairgrounds closed in 2009 due to state budget cuts.

A formal development plan for the fairgrounds site hasn't been filed yet by the group. The land was bought from the state for $4.65 million in Oct. 2013.

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