- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—The Detroit City Council today approved Mayor Mike Duggan’s controversial land transfer with the Moroun family by a 7-2 vote.

The deal will allow the city to expand and make improvements at Riverside Park in southwest Detroit and it gives the Morouns’ Detroit International Bridge Company a three-acre piece of the city-owned park near the Ambassador Bridge.

The Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, plans to use the land to build a second bridge to Canada. But those plans still need numerous approvals from the state and federal government and the Canadian government.

Council President Brenda Jones and Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, whose district includes the park, voted against the land transfer.

Mary Sheffield, who voted in favor of the deal, said it was a tough vote. She said the Bridge Company still has to come back to the council for future approvals if a second Ambassador Bridge is to be built.

“I do believe there are enough layers in this agreement that they have to come before this body for approvals,” Sheffield said. “This is not approving a second span.”

The council’s approval came after months of public hearings and emotional community gatherings. Large groups of residents have expressed both support and opposition to the deal.

At today’s council meeting, opponents of the land transfer urged the council to negotiate a more advantageous deal. Many said they thought the city could get money for the park property.

The Bridge Company will give the city a five-acre parcel near adjacent to Riverside Park and pay Detroit $3 million up front to be put toward fixing up the park, which is now closed. The company will pay the city another $2 million if certain governmental approvals are secured in the future.

Maria Elena Rodriguez, a longtime southwest Detroit resident, said the community is getting bread crumbs.

“Those $3 million, we know that we’re worth a lot more,” Rodriguez said. “DIBC can well afford it.”

Adam Thibodeau, a community organizer in southwest Detroit, said the deal needs more community benefits, aside from money for park improvements. Construction of a second Ambassador Bridge could affect public health, he said.

“Often, we don’t get the protections that the community needs,” Thibodeau said. “We want guarantees with health protections; we want guarantees for jobs with the construction that comes with it.”

Many supporters of the land swap at today’s council meeting stressed the need for more recreational opportunities in the city.

Duggan has said the city plans to begin making improvements to Riverside as early as this fall. New baseball and soccer fields on the northeastern part of the park and other new amenities are planned.

Minister Malik Shabazz, president of the Marcus Garvey Movement, urged the council to approve the deal and trust that Duggan has negotiated terms advantageous to the city.

“No, it’s not the best deal on the planet, but it is a very good deal and we could get the work started this year,” Shabazz said. “We’ll deal with the bridges and whatnot further down the line.”

Shabazz supported Moroun’s bridge effort as early as 2012 when Michigan voters rejected Proposal 6 which would have required a public vote on any new international bridge. He was one of several residents representing the Marcus Garvey Movement voicing support for the deal at today’s meeting.

Duggan and Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of the Bridge Company, have said the land swap marks a new, improved relationship between the city and the Moroun family’s business interests.

In addition to the land transfer between the city and the Bridge Company, the deal also includes a commitment from the Morouns to install about 1,050 windows in the Michigan Central Station, which has stood vacant for years.


(c)2015 the Detroit Free Press

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