INTRO: Magic Johnson and a family friend and business partner from Lansing have the only plan being considered by state authorities for the former state fairgrounds in Detroit. They’re confident their plan will help the community. But the community disagrees. Michigan’s Chris McCarus reports.
Let’s listen to this video posted on www.Growtown.org. They’re a non-profit group.
“Urgent. Within the next few weeks, the 157 acre state fair property in Detroit, at Woodward Avenue and 8 Mile roads, owned by the taxpayers of Michigan, may be given away for free, at no cost, to private developer Magic Plus LLC to build a 1990’s outdoor strip mall. This is being made possible by Governor Snyder’s Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority program.”
Growtown draws red lines on a map with the state fair’s shape. The downtowns of Ferndale and Birmingham are about the same size. They have some tall buildings that attract people instead of cars. But the Magic Johnson plan, they say, is 45% parking lots.
“Let’s superimpose the Magic Plus LLC strip mall plan over downtown Royal Oak. Wow. Look at all the pavement. How can anyone get around walking with all those cars?”
Magic Johnson is worth about $500 million. If he visits his parents in Lansing he might also visit Joel Ferguson to discuss business. Ferguson became a role model to Magic decades ago. He is the chairman of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. He’s developed several buildings for state government including the $60 million state police building. Ferguson spoke from his Lansing office.
“This is still our concept that will be tweaked. Working with the city and the state and the community and they will say we think you ought to move a building here or there and we are very much open to that. All you have to do is look at the developments that my name is on. Hobbs and Black’s and Redico and what Ervin wants to be a part of. We’re all extremely successful already. We’re not running down to Detroit to make a name. We already have a name.”
Ferguson’s name is big in the small town of Lansing. He can reach out to former lobbyist and current governor’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore. Muchmore’s wife Deb, is helping decide who gets the land. She chairs the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority.
Frank Hammer lives nearby in the Green Acres neighborhood.
“While people feel positive that something is finally being done with the fairgrounds, they were underwhelmed by what had been presented.”
The due date for proposals was July 18. The Land Bank didn’t take public comment until November and January. Only Magic Plus LLC’s is being considered. Locals who took the microphone to speak praised Growtown’s plan for more energy and agriculture projects.
“Governor Snyder said we do need to reinvent ourselves.”
Sally Wenczel has done volunteer work with Growtown near the state fair. She says Magic Johnson’s partnership with Best Buy electronic stores would not help reinvent Detroit.
“Big box stores like Staples, Borders or Best Buy, the tools to build a career are not possible with those. It’s not sustainable. Big box stores are not sustainable in the long run. Also, talking about short term and dreadful sprawl, Magic Johnson Enterprises also partnered in 2005 with Burger King and opened 32 Burger Kings nationwide. It worries me that the man behind the funding for Magic Plus LLC opened 32 Burger Kings. I just don’t want to see a Burger King at 8 Mile and Woodward. Money doesn’t give you good ideas. It just gives you money.”
Ken Weikel is a landscape architect who helped start Growtown.
“Woodward and 8 Mile are the center of the transit world for this region. You’ve got all of 8 Mile and it’s accessibility and it’s access to jobs. You‘ve got Woodward with the same thing. Woodward also connects the City of Detroit to Pontiac. This is an opportunity that we don’t want to throw away.”
The establishment of a regional transit authority in December has raised expectations. Developer Joel Ferguson says his project will fit with the times.
“That’s the most counterproductive thing to say. We’re going to spend over $100 million on this development and the only way it works is if people can get there. We’ve set aside a place for rail and high-speed buses at this site. Anyone who looks at our plan knows we’ve done that. We’re totally committed to the people having access to the development.”
I asked Wayne State University Urban Studies dean Robin Boyle what should be done. “Patience,” he said. “Wait to see who patronizes the new Meijer store being built right now at Woodward and 8 Mile. Then we’ll know more.”
For Michigan Now, I’m Chris McCarus