INTRO: On July 21, the director and the board of the Michigan Land Bank were abolished. Rick Snyder the order in May. The governor’s office it will make the land bank more efficient. This could make it easier for businessman Joel Ferguson, chairman of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, to clear the remaining hurdles to owning the state fairgrounds unconditionally.
The Michigan Land Bank signed a contract last year to sell the former state fairgrounds to Magic Plus LLC. It’s a company owned by Detroit businessman Marvin Beatty, former NBA hall of famer Magic Johnson and his mentor Joel Ferguson. The Land Bank will still exist but within the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, MSHDA. That’s supposed to be Rick Snyder’s vehicle for revitalizing cities like the rest of America does. MSHDA calls it ‘placemaking.’
“You have power right now. This is such an important intersection of the city.”
Sally Wenzel lived in Ferndale for many years. That city borders the old state fair at 8 Mile road. She was one of dozens of people who spoke at a meeting last month in Detroit. Ferguson, Beatty and their sub contractors sat at a table in the front of a large room. Almost no one in the room likes their plan.
“It’s a perfect spot for this. Please think about transportation. Please don’t let Magic Johnson build a Burger King because he’s already built 32 of them. I looked at the website. Or a Best Buy. We gotta get away from the big box and the fast food diabetes.”
Joel Ferguson has been forced by the state to talk about his plan several times in the last year and a half. But since the land bank board is being abolished, he has even less to stop him from getting the fairgrounds in 2015. Transportation has become more of an issue since the Regional Transit Authority, RTA, was formed by the state. And DDOT and SMART bus service has been cut bad. Riders wait for hours on Woodward in front of the fairgrounds. But the area has two major roads, a city border line, a county border line, and existing commuter rail. Now it needs light rail, bike paths and regular bus service. The public already owns these 160 acres. It’s enough to build a new city….the size of downtown Royal Oak or Birmingham.
“I don’t see you developing anything new. So I would like you guys to tell me what it is that you are developing?
At the public meeting in Detroit, Joe Blair said he’s a draftsman. He and several others said that state government has failed to push the transportation potential of the fairgrounds. They added that Ferguson and company have no experience in it either.
“In terms of the transportation I can appreciate that also. But if transportation is a key part and it’s not ready I’m wondering why we’re doing development. Transportation is a key part why aren’t we selling the transportation and then do the development. So I’m concerned is that backwards? Is it backwards. I agree with you guys. It’s not your responsibility. It’s the state’s responsibility. But if it’s the state’s responsibility and it’s a needed part why aren’t we doing that first? Why aren’t we determining that first? Perhaps the development is not ready to happen.”
Ferguson stood up from the table a couple times. Once he said:
“I think those are excellent comments. We’re going to take some of those back and see if we can incorporate ‘em. I’m not saying we will. But at least it’s something to think about: what you just said. OK? Thank you very much.”
The Gateway project is the new mall with Meijer’s, Petco and other chain stores. It opened last year at the northwest corner of the fairgrounds. Ferguson’s partner Marvin Beatty has been part of the Gateway development team.
“Gateway Marketplace is the beginning of regionalism in Detroit. We see everyday, residents from all over this community”,
The Gateway deal laid the groundwork for the Beatty-Ferguson-Magic deal. Here’s Marvin Beatty again.
“You know we can all talk we don’t like a Best Buy. We don’t like this. But we go to them. We go to them. We’re going to them in other people’s communities. Why shouldn’t we come to them in ours so the money circulates more than one time.”
Beatty is admitting yeah it’s nothing special, we’re not innovating at this site. We’re reinforcing the petroleum based lifestyle. But don’t blame us. Everyone else is doing it. He said the new mall doesn’t isolate people. Pat Jones disagreed. Jones grew up in Detroit before living in Europe and out east. She sometimes regrets moving home two years ago.
“We’re so isolated in Detroit because we have become a car city. It’s awful to get around.”
Governor Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore, told me by email that the Ferguson deal is “the best deal we’ll get for the foreseeable future.” The state is selling it to Ferguson for $4.65 million dollars. The state’s place-making rules require a dense, walkable mix of stores and apartments. Mass transit connects them. But the rules don’t seem to apply to the former state fairgrounds.