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The fairgrounds fiasco 

Do you think you can trust anything the Nederlander organization says about its plans to renovate the State Fairgrounds? Hardly, as this whole fiasco has been stamped with backroom dealing, misinformation and arrogance on its part.

The first press release on the planned project highlighted the theater and building renovations and claimed the racetrack they first presented would host bicycle and classic car races. Spokespersons for the Nederlanders downplayed the racetrack, saying that was in the second phase — and they were busy working on phase one.

Now we know they plan no phases unless there is a racetrack. In fact, the original lease with the state called for a racetrack. The Engler Legislature in Lansing even quietly changed the law to make such a development possible. We also know that the Nederlanders had a contract to bring the Detroit Grand Prix to the Fairgrounds, undermining any negotiations Mayor Dennis Archer may have been pursuing to keep the race on Belle Isle. Not to mention that the contract was premature because the area isn’t even zoned to allow it — something else they took for granted with the city.

On top of it all, they chose to do business with Bernie Schrott, a real estate man whose long history of questionable dealings were detailed in a recent MT investigative report (“The Six Degrees of Bernie Schrott,” MT, Aug. 16-22). In retrospect, the Nederlander brothers look bad just for bringing him into the picture.

As for the local minister who was trotted out to support the project, it turns out that his church would benefit from bingo games run on Fairgrounds property.

And for all their protesting that they wanted to do something good for Detroit, the Nederlanders’ $40 million suit against Detroit, suburban cities and community groups that would block their plans shows that it was really about the money. The suit seems to be the first bit of honesty the Nederlanders have displayed in this drama.

The bottom line is that since Pistons owner Bill Davidson’s idea for a Fairgrounds racetrack was killed in 1996, the Nederlanders knew the local community was against such a development. Then they, along with Gov. Engler, try to sneak one in by folding it into another development. So it should have been no surprise when the community popped their opportunistic balloon. Now their suit shows that, in the end, it was all about the Benjamins. Not that it’s wrong to try to make money, but come on, be honest about it. Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former Metro Times editor. Send comments to

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October 21, 2020

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