Mayor, Morouns reach deal for park, depot improvements

Tom Greenwood, and Louis Aguilar

Detroit — A proposed deal between the city and the controversial owners of the Ambassador Bridge was unveiled Wednesday that would overhaul and expand a waterfront park in the southwest area of the city. But the way the bridge owners have taken care of some of their Detroit property has already made some politicians express criticism of the deal.

The bridge owners will pay for up to $5 million in upgrades and agree to install 1,050 windows at its Michigan Central Station, a property owned by the family behind the Ambassador Bridge. In exchange Mayor Mike Duggan vowed to support the bridge owners' effort to build a second span, a proposal that faces stiff opposition in Michigan and Canada. The city would also transfer three acres of the park to the bridge company to make room for the second span.

The deal was announced at Riverside Park by Duggan, the bridge owners and more than a dozen community supporters and two Detroit City Council members. The park is located in the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge. It runs along West Jefferson near West Grand Boulevard.

"This is a huge commitment of trust," said Duggan Wednesday. He characterized the deal as part of a new relationship with the Moroun family, who control the Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge.

"You know how badly my family wants to build that bridge, right?" said Matthew Moroun, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co. Moroun said a second span couldn't be built without upgrading Riverside Park and installing the windows at the Michigan Central Station.

As part of the deal, the bridge company will transfer 4.8 acres of riverfront property to the city and pay $5 million to upgrade Riverside Park.

But already two political representatives of the southwest Detroit community where the park is located were skeptical of the proposal. Further, since the deal needs City Council approval, the track record of the Detroit property could be become part of the public debate.

"I am deeply concerned about the lack of community engagement in deciding the future of Riverside Park," said state Rep. Stephanie Chang, a Democrat. "From my conversation with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, there is still quite a bit of work to be done to clean up and assess the soil before people can safely use the land.

"I am also concerned about the potential long-term implications of this land sale to the Moroun family."

Detroit Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez said the City Council needs to look at the track record of the Moroun family. "We always look at whether an entity — a private landowner or business — has outstanding violations and issues with the city and we should do that with this deal," she said. She pointed out that there are current issues whether the bridge company has illegally closed part of West Jefferson near the bridge. She also pointed to current debate whether the Morouns had the right to take control of a part of 23rd near the bridge.

The Michigan Central Station also has been a point of contention between the city and the Morouns.

The historic train depot has long been one of the city's most infamous ruins, becoming a symbol of Detroit's downfall. It opened in 1914 stopped operating as a station in January 1988. The station was acquired by Moroun in 1996.

Michigan Central Station

The bridge company said in 2008 that it would begin to renovate the massive 13-story building. In 2011, the company began making exterior repairs to the depot, including replacing the roof, cleaning up the interior and removing broken windows and asbestos. In February, a St. Clair company issued a press release saying it has reached an agreement with the depot owners to replace all the windows in the towering old train station.

Over the past decade the park, the depot, the bridge and the city have been engaged in a series of skirmishes over the properties in southwest Detroit.

At one point, the bridge company fenced in a portion of the 20-acre park on grounds of "national security."

After numerous legal battles, the bridge company was ordered to remove the fence in 2012. It was also in 2012 that industrial contamination was discovered at the park, which caused it to be closed by the city until the contaminated soil could be removed.

Moroun needs the park property to start construction pending federal approval, which has been denied.

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