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Judge issues temporary halt to sale of Detroit's former State Fairgrounds site to Amazon

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Wayne County Circuit Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order halting the city of Detroit's sale of the former Michigan State Fairgrounds site to Amazon. 

The order, filed Wednesday, stops the city from executing a sale for at least 14 days.

In her motion, Judge Sheila Ann Gibson said "plaintiffs will experience immediate and irreparable harm unless defendants are immediately restrained and enjoined."

A hearing is scheduled for noon Nov. 9.

"The stakes are too high, especially with environmental and health impacts, for plaintiffs to be deprived of their opportunity to receive benefits and a means to hold the developer, Amazon, and other corporations that stand to profit accountable under the Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO)," said Tonya Myers Phillips, director of partnerships and development at the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice.

A rendering of the proposed Amazon distribution center at the Michigan State Fairgrounds at Eight Mile and Woodward.

The Detroit-based firm filed suit last week against the city, Mayor Mike Duggan and other officials on behalf of the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition.

Resident Frank Hammer, co-chair of the coalition, said his group was challenging the appraised value of the property. He claims the property is being sold under value and should trigger the Community Benefits Ordinance, which would establish a Neighborhood Advisory Council of residents from the area the development would affect.

Hammer said a public hearing for a proposed transit center associated with the site should have been held prior to the City Council's vote Oct. 20 instead of one being scheduled for November.

"Detroiters were entitled by the Detroit CBO to a Community Benefits Agreement. We will continue that fight, and look forward to the hearing on November 9th," Hammer said Thursday.

Responding to the court decision, Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in a statement: “The city was never provided notice of the plaintiffs’ request for the temporary order, or an opportunity to respond. 

"This order was issued on bad information, and we are moving to respond to complete the record. We are confident this order will be lifted and this 1,200-job development will proceed.”

In a 6-2 vote last week, the council approved the sale of the former fairgrounds for $16 million to real estate developers and investors Hillwood Investment Properties and Sterling Group, which plans to build a nearly 4-million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center. 

More than $400 million was expected to be invested in development, officials said when the potential sale was announced in August. Officials have said the project would create 1,200 jobs.

The council also has approved the construction of a $7 million Detroit Department of Transportation indoor transit center at Woodward near Eight Mile, to be built through proceeds from the sale.

City officials have estimated the direct economic impact is $42 million in tax revenue over the next decade.

The facility would join other Amazon fulfillment and sortation centers launched in the region in recent years in Livonia, Shelby Charter Township, Romulus and Brownstown Township. The online retail giant also has delivery stations in Romulus, Wixom, Sterling Heights, Pontiac and Hazel Park.

Also last week, the City Council approved a master plan switching the site’s future general land-use designation from regional park to light industrial. The property was transferred in 2012 to the Michigan Land Bank, which later sold 142 acres to the city for $7 million.

The Sugar Law Center suit claims Detroit failed to provide statutorily required notice of a proposed amendment to the city master plan or give adequate notice on the sale.