State fairgrounds sale to Magic Johnson's company complete

The Hertel Coliseum at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit in 2018. Magic Johnson's development firm has purchased 16 acres of the site and the city of Detroit will purchase 142 acres.

Detroit — The state's sale of part of its former fairgrounds site to basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson's development company has closed, but details are scarce on plans for its future. 

The Michigan Land Bank on Monday announced that the developer finalized the purchase of the 16-acre property at Eight Mile and Woodward in Detroit for $472,464. The land bank, meanwhile, said the city of Detroit is expected to close on its purchase of the remaining 142 acres of the fairgrounds later this month for about $7 million.

MoreDetroit to buy part of State Fairgrounds for $7M

"I’m proud of the collaborative work we’ve done with Magic Plus and the city of Detroit to bring new jobs and economic opportunities to the community,” Michigan Land Bank Director Josh Burgett said in a released statement. “The State Fairgrounds is one of the largest developable properties in Detroit, and we’re excited for the economic prosperity this brings to their community and Michigan taxpayers.”

Magic Plus plans to build a mixed-use project on Woodward. "With the development of this property, we are excited to be a part of Detroit’s continued economic renaissance and community revitalization,” Magic Plus LLC owner Joel Ferguson added.

Officials with the city of Detroit, which plans to explore its options for developing its part of the property, praised Monday's announcement.

"We are pleased to see this deal with Magic Plus close, as it paves the way for the redevelopment of this strategically located Woodward Avenue property," said Thomas Lewand, the city's group executive for jobs and economic growth.

But a coalition that put together its own vision for the site with an eye toward "fair-priced" housing, preservation and transit, said its members and the area communities feel left in the dark about what's to come.

The process, "has been completely opaque," said Frank Hammer, a co-chair of the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition. "We have no sense whatsoever of what has been approved or what is forthcoming on the Magic Plus side. There has been no community dialogue or community input. No one has no sense at all of what they have in the works."

The coalition, he said, is planning to host a public discourse one block south of the fairgrounds site on June 22.  Hammer's wife, Karen, said the coalition began working on a proposal for future use after the fairgrounds closed. The site has a history that goes back over a century.

"That cultural history has brought urban and rural together," she said. "People feel very strongly about it."

Officials said the fairgrounds had been vacant for nearly 10 years and cost taxpayers $1 million a year to maintain the property. The fairgrounds hosted the Michigan State Fair from 1905-2009. 

The property was transferred to the Michigan Land Bank in 2012, and the Michigan Land Bank Board of Directors approved the purchase in March 2018. 

In 2013, the Michigan Land Bank entered into a purchase agreement with Magic Plus. The developer later pitched proposals calling for housing, retail, restaurants, transit and parks at the site.

Detroit City Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. said Monday it's unclear what the future proposals will include. The city remains in limbo until it officially takes possession of its portion of the site later this month, he said, because there are competing interests involved. His focus is building up the fairgrounds site and surrounding area. 

"It's the largest parcel of land in the city of Detroit," he said. "There's just so many factors in limbo with that. It's something that's going to be big."
Twitter: @CharlesERamirez