Detroit to buy part of State Fairgrounds for $7M


The historic Michigan State Fairgrounds could become the home of a major employer, a regional transit hub and provide amenities to area residents after state officials gave the city of Detroit and Earvin "Magic" Johnson's development company the green light to buy the property.

The Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority Board of Directors approved proposals Wednesday to sell the Detroit property where the Michigan State Fair was once held to the city and Magic Plus LLC, officials said.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Councilmember Roy McCalister Jr. during a press conference in front of the Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds.

“A property of this size should be a major employment center for Detroiters,” said Mayor Mike Duggan as he stood Wednesday in front of the coliseum, which shuttered its doors when the Michigan State Fair ended its 104-year run on the site in 2009. “Detroiters need jobs. There is no reason we can’t have 1,000 to 2,000 people working here.”

Under the proposals, the city will buy about 142 acres of the property for $7 million. Magic Plus plans to buy 16 acres, which are primarily located along Woodward Avenue. Officials said the city will lead the redevelopment of the property with input from the community.

“The historic State Fairgrounds is an important site for residents, the City of Detroit and the entire region,” said Josh Burgett, the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority's director, in a statement. “All parties involved have worked hard to bring redevelopment to the site, and this public/private agreement is marrying two visions for the State Fairgrounds to create jobs and provide commercial destinations for those new employees and current residents.”

The deal still has to be approved by the Detroit City Council, which could happen this spring. If approved, the city will take ownership of the land this summer and Magic Plus will take ownership of its land in May.

Joel Ferguson, principal of Magic Plus LLC, said his company will work with the city and area residents to determine the best use of the property. A number of uses have been suggested, such as a movie theater and restaurants. Ferguson said he has a list of businesses interested in the site but declined to name them. 

“There’s not going to be any housing from us for sure,” Ferguson said. “(Residents) want a number of different stores that would service that immediate area. We don’t know what that will be. We’re working with the city and community, and they’ll highlight what they want us to do.”

Duggan said he is confident the city council will approve the purchase. The city will pay an initial $3.5 million and another $3.5 million when the development is near completion, he said. 

Duggan said he’s approached every day by employers who want to return to the city. 

“I don’t see us going out for a (request for proposal) for housing or strip malls or anything like that,” Duggan said. “I see us talking to the major employers, looking at designing the land around regional transit and a major employment center. That’s what we hope to do.”

Councilman Roy McAlister noted the site’s proximity to Oakland and Macomb counties.

“We’re also bringing our region together to make sure that we’re prosperous,” he said.

The Michigan State Fair was held on the site from 1905 until 2009.

In April 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation allowing for the transfer of the site to the Michigan Land Bank to be returned to productive use. Since then, the Land Bank has been working with Detroit and Magic Plus LLC to redevelop the site.

Frank Hammer, who lives in nearby Green Acres, said he’s happy the city will purchase the majority of the land. He’s critical of Magic Plus LLC, its initial plans for the property and the length of time it’s taken for action. 

“They were talking about big box stores, a shopping center and we knew from the onset that that would not fly on a site as historic and important and essential as the fairgrounds,” he said. “... We’ve been hurting from lack of development here.”

Hammer, a member of a grassroots effort, the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition, said the group would like to see the use of green energy technology, a transit center and jobs.

“We’re really happy to hear Duggan talk about a transit center,” he said. “That’s one of the things that we’ve been advocating here. Transit-oriented development.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN