(UPDATED October 18) The text below reflects conflicting ownership documents provided by Joel Ferguson’s office, the City of Detroit and Wayne County. There is no indication that Ferguson was involved in or aware of the drug business at the disputed property.
- City of Detroit October 2, 2013
- Wayne County October 17, 2013
- Land Bank/Magic Plus LLC
- Gladstone Property Documents
- Purchase Agreement
INTRO: Earlier this month, the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority board voted to sell the former state fair grounds to Magic Plus LLC. Magic Johnson is a household name in America and Joel Ferguson is not. But Ferguson has been Magic’s mentor for decades. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus has been tracking other Detroit real estate that Ferguson has owned.
Joel Ferguson is 75. He’s chairman of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. He owns real estate in several states. He developed the $60 million State Police headquarters in Lansing. In Detroit, he bought a brown brick three story apartment building for $185,000. It’s a half mile north of the Fisher Building at the corner of Second Avenue and Gladstone.
The office of Central Detroit Christian is across the street in the basement. They work on gardening, home ownership and youth education. Dottie Foster works for CDC. She lives two blocks away. She walks across the street to the apartments Joel Ferguson owned for 10 years.
“We see a lot of guys come out and cars pull up. People come out. People go in. When you in the hood you know it’s drug activity. You have it in the day and night when we are doing business in our warehouse. We just want it to stop. When a drug deal goes bad all the people are in danger.”
Central Detroit Christian is fixing up 35 properties in the neighborhood. They boarded up the Ferguson property too.
“We went inside and boarded from the inside out. And it was open. The doors are gone. The windows are gone. And you look at that plywood to try to keep people out from selling drugs and living in them and squatting in them and putting trash in them and setting them on fire. Whatever you can think of they do out of them.”
Detroit City records show Joel Ferguson still owns the apartment building. $3,368.54 are owed in back taxes. County records still show the taxpayer’s address is Ferguson’s office:1223 Turner St. Suite 300 in Lansing.
Dottie Foster walks over to another property on the same block. City records show Ferguson still owns this too.
“It’s an empty vacant lot with trash on it. Weeds grown up. It’s an ugly sight for our neighborhood. Trash cans. There’s a lot of negative.. I know that the people who own it don’t live like this.”
Joel Ferguson’s 5,200 square foot home is on the Lansing Country Club golf course near the governor’s mansion.
The day after I first published this story on October 1, he asked that I call him. He used swear words to describe me and my reporting. That day I also talked to one of his employees, Christopher Stralkowski. In May, I had emailed Stralkowski asking if Ferguson would be willing to sell the apartments. This week he called by phone. I asked him:
“Didn’t you say that Joel says make him an offer?”
“Right. Correct,” Stralkowski said.
“Ok so if the city records indicate that Joel still owns the property and if Joel says make him an offer how would my conclusion NOT be that Joel owns it or at least controls it?”
“I can’t speak to how you make your conclusions,” Stralkowski said. “I can’t speak to how you come about an assumption.”
After my initial story on the drug house, Ferguson had the public relations firm Truscott/Rossman call and send me documents. They show that the apartments and the vacant lot were owned by an LLC. Ferguson owned the LLC.
Stralkowski said: “The address on the property, where the documents are sent to doesn’t indicate that it’s an ownership based on the fact that it’s our office. That you’re saying that because the documents are sent to that address in the mail doesn’t indicate that Joel owns the property.”
In 2010, he sold his stake in the company. His nephew Quinn Ferguson bought the company for $100. Therefore Quinn Ferguson now owns the real estate. He lives in an apartment next to the expressway in East Lansing. I knocked on the nephew’s door one morning and then that night.
“So I’m back here at apartment B-2. 1670. I just wrung the door bell. It’s now about 8′ o’clock. Maybe it doesn’t work. (knock 4 times on door) My name is Chris McCarus. I’m a public radio reporter. Quinn I would like to talk to you about the properties in Detroit on Gladstone?”
“I’m not available for comment,” Ferguson said through his closed front door.
“You’re not available for comment,” I said.
“No sir,” Ferguson said.
The next day, Quinn spoke with his uncle Joel who then told his employee, Stralkowski, to ask why I knocked on Quinn’s door. I said that Central Detroit Christian wants answers.
“They’re not taking care of their investment. Whoever it is. Whether it’s Joel or Quinn. I mean someone has to stand up and do something about this property.”
That’s Lisa Johannon, director of CDC and a 25 year resident of the North End. She says the apartment building began to be abused 5 years ago. That was while Joel Ferguson was the undisputed owner.
“If it’s abandoned you have a responsibility according to City of Detroit ordinance that you have to keep it boarded up and free from trespass. They’re violating that because it’s being used as a stash house or a drug house. And they do have a responsibility to this community and unfortunately because it’s poor community people think they don’t have rights. They do have rights. We’re tired of houses like this in this community. We’ve closed three down this year. And this needs to be the fourth.”
Central Detroit Christian is hoping the owners donate the property to them. But they have no indication that will happen.