Council attorneys urge caution on land exchange deal
Detroit — Citing a past history of “negative dealings,” the City Council’s legal team is urging the council to use caution as it delves into the terms of a complicated plan designed to give the billionaire owners of the Ambassador Bridge riverfront land in exchange for a rejuvenated city park.
In a legal analysis released Monday, the council’s Legislative Policy Division provided an overview of the agreement between the Duggan administration and Detroit International Bridge Co., raising questions about enforceability and the risks of a potential long-term commitment to supporting the company’s quest to build a second bridge span.
The legal questions come months after the administration and bridge officials announced plans that would give the Moroun family-owned bridge company riverfront land in exchange for a revamped Riverside Park along Jefferson near West Grand Boulevard.
The deal has been criticized by some in the wake of the Moroun family’s history with the park and Michigan Central Depot, a building they own that’s languished for years and become a symbol of the city’s decline.
“(The bridge company’s) history of negative dealings with the community in the area of the bridge is well known in the city,” the report said. “Commitments have been made by (the bridge company) to the community on a variety of issues — with a continuing lack of follow-through.”
The bridge company and its subsidiaries paid nearly $157,000 to the city to cover outstanding fines and fees tied to blight violations, the report said.
The proposal can advance only with the council’s support.
Under the agreement, the city would immediately receive $3 million and title to the 4.8-acre former Detroit News warehouse property on Jefferson after approval is given.
The city would not be able to use the property it’s acquiring for the park until the warehouse is demolished, which may not come until 2018. The building has a tenant and demolition won’t take place until the lease expires.
A second payment of $2 million would be provided by the bridge company when a second closing on the property commences.
The council’s policy staff cautioned that promises to pay the full amount don’t appear to be legally mandated and may be unenforceable.
It’s an assertion that the city’s administration rejects. The bridge company, the Mayor’s Office stressed, won’t get the land it’s seeking and the deal won’t go through without full payment.
If the company did contest its obligation, the city could sue for enforcement or terminate the deal, according to Duggan’s chief of staff, Alexis Wiley.
A spokesman for the bridge company Monday did not provide additional comment beyond the city administration’s responses to questions raised by the council’s legal staff.
Another concern raised by the council’s policy staff is whether the deal would obligate the city to support efforts to construct a span for the next 25 years.
But Wiley said the city isn’t advocating for the bridge company’s efforts to build a second span, and it has no obligation to do so.
Rather, the city’s role is limited to supporting the specific transactions identified in the agreement — the land exchange, grant of air rights easement and payment of required monies.
A community meeting on the plan is slated for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the offices of LaSed (Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development) on Vernor in southwest Detroit. Duggan will be present, Wiley said. A public hearing will be held June 29.
If the council approves the agreement, the first $3 million will be received by Detroit’s Recreation Department for improvements to the existing parcels of Riverside Park.
The park must be used for public recreation under the terms of a grant awarded to acquire and develop the site. Converting it to nonrecreational use or conveying any portion of it requires both state and federal approvals.
Once the conversion is complete and the council authorizes the transfer of the 3 acres of land to the bridge company, the city will receive the final $2 million.
The bridge company needs the 3 acres of parkland to build the second bridge over the Detroit River into Canada.
Over the past decade, the park, depot, bridge and city have been engaged in a series of disagreements over the properties in southwest Detroit.
At one point, the bridge company fenced in a portion of the 20-acre park, citing national security concerns.
Matthew Moroun has told council members that the potential deal would hopefully mark the beginning of improved relations with the city.