Detroit restaurant's parking curtailed in dispute with billionaire's company
Detroit — Like the poet says, good fences make good neighbors. But what if the neighbor is billionaire Matthew Moroun?
Jacques Driscoll awoke Tuesday to discover a 6-foot metal fence blocking part of the parking lot at his Green Dot Stables restaurant in southwest Detroit. He had an inkling who put it up.
Driscoll had been talking to the Detroit International Bridge Co., owned by Moroun, about its recent discovery that it owned part of his property.
The two sides negotiated for several months over Driscoll buying or leasing the property but eventually reached an impasse, he said.
“I was like, no, that's my baby, that's my livelihood,” Driscoll said he told the bridge company when it asked if he would sell the restaurant.
But he did have a price, $15 million. The bridge offered $300,000.
A spokeswoman for the bridge company said it was negotiating to allow Driscoll to continue using the parking lot when he suddenly filed a lawsuit against the firm.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Wayne County Circuit Court, argues squatter’s rights, saying Driscoll and the restaurant’s previous owner had occupied the disputed property for 35 years.
Bridge spokeswoman Esther Jentzen said the company erected the fence because it was worried about liability if someone was injured on the property.
“We simply cannot allow them to continue putting their customers and our company at risk,” she said.
A Circuit Court judge imposed an injunction against the fence Wednesday, but it remained in place Thursday.
Besides about half of the parking lot’s 30 spaces, the blocked off area also holds the restaurant’s storage unit and Dumpster. The bridge company offered to allow the restaurant access to the two places.
The imbroglio began several months ago when the bridge company contacted Driscoll and said it was going to tear down a neighboring building and to let it know if he had any issues, said Driscoll.
The bridge company also told him it believed it might own part of the property where the parking lot stood, and it planned to do a survey to confirm that.
When the survey was done, the company asked Driscoll if he was willing to sell the property, he said.
During the ensuing negotiations, Driscoll said he was willing to lease the land for 20 years for $300 a month, waiving any liability to the company. The bridge firm countered with a month-to-month lease for $1,000 a month.
A hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 10 in Wayne County Circuit Court.
Driscoll said he wasn’t relishing the idea of fighting a billionaire in court.
“I don't want to go to court with the Morouns. That's not something that sounds ideal,” he said.
While the fence remains upright, restaurant customers can park on the street, he said.
Driscoll's attorney, Michelle Harrell, said the court will have to decide the final question of who owns the strip of the parking lot.
"I feel very strongly about our legal position," she said. "And we just have to wait for our day in court.”