INTRO: The State of Michigan is set to sell the state fairgrounds to Magic Johnson and two other businessmen, Joel Ferguson of Lansing and Marvin Beatty of Detroit. The huge tract of land along Woodward and 8 Mile Road would become a mix of stores, housing and entertainment.
The state fair began at that site in 1905 and closed in 2009. In the early years it focused on agriculture as many of Michigan’s county fairs still do. Agriculture will not be included in the redevelopment of the fair grounds.
Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports.
Last week, Ervin Magic Johnson came to Lansing. His parents and sisters still live there. They held a ceremony in a gymnasium honoring his uncle. It was tough getting the attention of a 6 foot 9 guy worth a half billion dollars. And he was walking out the door to a car.
“Magic,” asked McCarus. “I wonder if you could tell me a little about this state fair deal.”
“I can’t do it right now,” Johnson said. “Gotta head to the airport. Let’s go Larry. I’m right behind you.”
“Anything you could tell me about your involvement. What it’s gonna look like?”
“I can’t tell you a thing right now. I wish I could. But I can’t.”
“But you’re involved in it.”
Magic’s main business partner on the project is Joel Ferguson. He developed the Michigan Hall of Justice that contains the Supreme Court. Plus the $60 million state police headquarters. He’s owned two Lansing television stations. But Ferguson’s not saying much yet either.
So here’s what we know. The State Fair property is 157 acres.
Kevin Francart is an attorney for the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority. They own the land. Francart describes how state government prohibited certain types of activity.
“Any property that is owned by the state land bank can not be used for casino purposes. As I understand it, the other prohibitions, the race tracks and the freight yard, were a negotiation between representative Jimmy Womack, Senator Virgil Smith and the governor’s office representing the fears in the community on what has been suggested out there in the past and what they absolutely did not want to see in the fairgrounds.”
Magic Plus LLC is proposing restaurants, stores, housing and parks. 20 buildings still stand there including a huge pavilion. Some old buildings might be saved. The project will also have an Amtrak station where the Pontiac to Chicago line touches the east side of the property. Kevin Francart from the state land bank says:
“It was a blank canvass. The way the rfp was written it was come one come all. Bring your best game and tell us what you think would be the best development out there.”
The state fairgrounds is next to a big bus stop. Riders can wait for hours trying to get up over the 8 Mile line. They’ve got plenty of time to think about the vacant property. Jose Knight is wearing a soiled car mechanic’s uniform.
“Maybe it would make the bus service better. Maybe it would put more buses on this line.”
Brandon Barber thinks the project will help keep money in the city instead of sending it to the suburbs.
“Redevelopment brings revenue into the city. Different finances, developers, merchants. It’s something the city needs to connect the city from 8 mile to downtown. It makes the city connected. It gives us something to do rather than having to take our money to another community or another county that doesn’t benefit us. Those taxes don’t come back to the city.”
Like most riders interviewed at this stop, Dorothy Grove said they don’t care if Magic Johnson is leading the project. Who should benefit from it?
“A lot of city people. A lot of people like us. Normal people. I travel all the way to 12 Mile and Farmington just for better employment? Why can’t I find it in my own city? So I think that if it will bring jobs and revitalize the city and make this area better. It’s a wasteland right now and we’re doing nothing with it. So why not profit from it?”
Liz, a Detroiter in her late 50’s, describes what the state fair used to be like.
2 other proposals for the state fair project were turned down. The Michigan Land Bank Authority says it could approve the Magic Johnson proposal by December.