Fast track

Hovering at the edge of a press conference held in mid-July at an exhibition hall on the Michigan State Fairgrounds, Bernie Schrott didn’t look much like the big-time developer and mortgage broker his résumé describes. Neither did he look like a money launderer for drug dealers or a paid snitch, or even a swindler — all accusations hung on him in the past decade, according to various court documents reviewed by the Metro Times.

Gray-haired and avuncular in his baseball cap and checkered cotton shirt, he could easily be mistaken for a farmer just wandering in from a nearby livestock barn.

In three recent interviews, he denied any and all wrongdoing. Despite being presented with evidence to the contrary, he staunchly denied business dealings with drug dealers. He just as strongly denied ever committing fraud.

In any event, the questions coming from the Metro Times regarding his business dealings largely focus on events that took place a decade ago.

What’s on his mind at this point is the opportunity at hand — both for himself and the city of Detroit. The Nederlander Theatrical Organization has plans for a multifaceted $200 million development in and around the fairgrounds. A controversial auto racetrack was a key component until just this week when the Nederlander organization announced it was killing that part of the plan. That leaves uncerrtain plans for new hotels, theaters and housing for the fairgrounds and nearby neighborhoods.

“Fairgrounds Park represents another significant piece of the puzzle in Detroit’s ongoing renewal,” Joe Nederlander, chairman of the Nederlander Theatrical Organization’s Detroit operations, declared back in April. “We’re thrilled to be able to front this project and bring a wide array of employment, entertainment and recreational opportunities to the Detroit area.”

Schrott is an integral part of the project. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” Nederlander told Crain’s Detroit Business in April. “I don’t understand real estate.”

Schrott does. The way he sees it, turning the fairgrounds into a year-round entertainment center will be an economic boon to the impoverished neighborhoods adjacent to it, and he wants to cash in on that opportunity by developing property there.

“That area could be a gold mine for me,” Schrott told the Metro Times.

He’s already begun mining for profits. A development deal has been struck between Schrott, the Nederlanders and the Rev. Royce Lester of the Original New Grace Missionary Baptist Church to build a 200-unit complex for the area’s senior citizens.

Schrott has made a big impression on Rev. Lester, who describes him as one of the few white men he knows who has both the nerve and compassion to venture into the troubled urban setting that is home to his congregation.

“Bernie spends as much time in this blighted neighborhood as I do,” said Lester. “He’s not afraid to come down here. You won’t find a better person than Bernie.”

Joe Nederlander describes Schrott in similar terms, though he’s somewhat vague these days concerning their relationship. Although Schrott is frequently named in press reports as spokesman for the project, and is identified on its Web site as the contact person, Nederlander insisted in a recent interview that Schrott was not his spokesman.

“He’s a liaison between Fairgrounds Park and the neighborhoods,” is the way Nederlander describes the relationship.

He is, however, a confirmed Schrott fan.

“Bernie is really a misunderstood guy who is really doing something good for the city,” says Nederlander. Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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