Church rebuffs state offer to move, make way for bridge
The state has started making offers to buy nonresidential properties needed to make way for the proposed Gordie Howe International Bridge and one of the first bids — to a Baptist church — has been declined.
The First Latin American Baptist Church, 6205 W. Fort St., rejected an offer from the Michigan Department of Transportation two weeks ago because it’s too low, said Alan Ackerman, the attorney representing the church. The church wants to negotiate a new price.
“We have been waiting for years for them to figure out what they are going to do, said the Rev. Kevin Casillas, pastor at the 86-year-old Baptist church. “The delays for churches like ours cause a lot of challenges.”
Recently, First Latin American Baptist began to relocate to another church building at 2004 Scotten in southwest Detroit in anticipation of having to leave the Fort Street location. That means double the operational costs, Casillas said.
Part of the church’s congregation is Spanish speaking and its vital that the church remains in southwest Detroit, the heart of the city’s Latino population, Casillas said.
The church disagrees with the appraisal made by the state, Ackerman said. “Their methodology may have been suspect. We are getting our own appraisal done.”
An MDOT spokesman confirmed an offer but was uncertain about it being declined.
“A property owner seeking its own appraisal is not unusual,” said Jeff Cranson, MDOT spokesman. MDOT wouldn’t specifically confirm the claim the church was the first offer made to any of the nonresidential properties needed, but indicated much more progress has been made in buying residential and tax-delinquent properties.
“Several good faith offers have been made to ‘working commercial property’ owners,” Cranson said.
The state needs to purchase about 670 parcels in all to make way for the proposed $2.1 billion bridge and the planned U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection plaza. The state estimates it will cost $370 million to buy the land. About half has been purchased. The bridge is expected to open in 2020.
Ackerman said he represents about 20 nonresidential property owners in the bridge area, including churches, party stores and industrial businesses. All but two are awaiting offers. Many had expected offers much earlier than now, he said.
The bridge will be built on time, MDOT officials predicted.
“MDOT fully expects to obtain all properties by the time they are needed for construction purposes,” Cranson said.