Riverfront deal pits investors vs. Moroun, city

Joel Kurth, The Detroit News

A Downriver businessman is offering to buy riverfront land from the Detroit port for $3.5 million, setting up a possible showdown with Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun.

Bob Carmack says he’s leading a team of investors that wants to acquire the Detroit Marine Terminal near the bridge, a 34-acre shipping facility that is owned by the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority but controlled for the past 11 years by Moroun’s companies.

Port officials have complained for years about the agreement, which they contend could last another 90 years and gives Moroun far too much influence. The agreement dates to 2005, when Moroun loaned the port $2.1 million to pay debts on the terminal. After a decade and more than $1 million in payments, the port still owes $2.156 million from the loan.

“I want to expand the terminal and make it into more than what it is,” said Carmack of Woodhaven, who owns BMC Land Development and a collision shop.

“It’s all under-utilized now. Moroun has only blocked growth there. He doesn’t care about growing (freight) traffic.”

The authority was set to review the offer on Friday but a meeting was canceled at the last minute. Under the terms of the deal with Moroun — known as the master concession agreement — he would have 30 days to match Carmack’s offer once it is forwarded to him from the authority.

Carmack has battled City Hall in recent years over a host of land issues. He accused Detroit’s corporation counsel, Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, of blocking the deal. Hollowell’s Mayor Mike Duggan, has two appointees on the authority’s five-member board.

Hollowell declined comment, as did Mickey Blashfield, director of government relations for the Ambassador Bridge.

The port authority’s director, John Loftus, would not comment on Carmack’s offer, but said he anticipates a proposed “real estate transaction” should go to before the board soon.

Privately, some city officials have raised questions about the offer and whether $3.5 million is enough for riverfront land. It could entice port officials, however, by offering a path out of the contract with Moroun.

“The concession agreement poses problems for us in order for us to serve the maritime community,” Loftus said. “It does create difficulties for this agency to fulfill its mission.”

Loftus said he has a legal opinion contending a clause in the concessions agreement makes it null and void if the property is sold — or even if Moroun matches the offer.

Last year, the port asked Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to review the legality of the deal. He declined.


Twitter: @joeltkurth