Casino redux

The Detroit City Council ignored both the Planning Commission’s recommendation and protests from residents last week when it approved a revised casino plan that doubles the city bond issue to help finance the project and includes construction of a controversial new road.

The decision to increase the city-backed bonds for the project from $250 million to $500 million provoked little debate within the council. When citizens raised concerns about the increase at recent public hearings on the issue, they were told that the money would be repaid by casino interests. Questions about what would happen if the casinos defaulted or went bankrupt went unanswered.

The money will be used to finance infrastructure improvements, such as road construction, in and around the casino district. Included in the revised plan is construction of a four-lane highway that will cut through a residential district containing condos and townhouses. The new highway, to be built below ground level along an unused railway that runs parallel to Orleans and St. Aubin streets, will carry an estimated 30,000 vehicles a day to three casinos slated for construction on the city’s eastside riverfront.

With council reportedly under pressure from Mayor Dennis Archer to approve the revised casino plan before the end of January, they voted 6-3 in favor of the project revision without benefit of even an estimate of how much the so-called Dequindre Cut thruway will cost.

Council member Clyde Cleveland defended approving the plan despite the appointed Planning Commission’s recommendation that it be rejected. “We’re the elected officials,” said Cleveland. “We have to face the voters based on our record of how we voted. We do what we think is best.”

Those opposing the plan revisions maintained that they continue to believe the east riverfront is the wrong location for Detroit’s casinos.

“The amendment causes an even greater negative affect than the initial plan did on the quality of life for the residents of the Elmwood/Lafayette residential community,” Councilmember Brenda Scott pointed out in a written statement. “The proposal does not do what I wanted casinos to do for Detroit, that is, to be a catalyst for spin-off development in downtown Detroit.”

Councilmembers Nicholas Hood III and Maryann Mahaffey also voted against the proposal.

One fear is that a highway such as the proposed Dequindre Cut will funnel traffic directly into the casino district, making it all the more unlikely that casino business will filter out into other parts of the city.

Also left unanswered is how much money will go into revitalizing public areas of the riverfront near the casinos.

“Despite plans to issue $500 million in bonds for casino development activities, there are no funds identified for the environmental cleanup and development of the riverfront park component of this project — convincing me that waterfront reclamation is a misnomer,” said Council President Pro Tem Mahaffey when explaining her vote.

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