Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ypsilanti official: Chinese development proposal is in a 'death spiral'

Posted By on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 8:40 AM

Several weeks ago, Ypsilanti officials announced that there was no developer for the proposed $300 million mixed-use International Village development.
click to enlarge COURTESY DRAWING
  • Courtesy drawing

This week, officials announced that the architect and builder are no longer involved in the project. A city official also said she doesn't known if it has any investors, and there are questions about whether the development team has legal representation. 

With no developer, architect, builder, or known investors, the project appears to be nearly dead. The city and what remains of the development team need to sign a development agreement by Dec. 31, or the two parties need to extend the deadline. If neither of those options happen by that date, then the project dies. And at a special city council meeting on Monday night, no council members expressed a desire to extend the deadline.

Council member Pete Murdock said that it's time for the city to "quit fooling" residents about the existence of a full development team.

"We need to be prepared to put that property back on the market on Jan. 1," he said.

After the meeting Murdock told Metro Times that the project has been in trouble for a while, and though it's not completely dead, it's "in a death spiral."

In a statement on Facebook, council member Beth Bashert echoed that.

"Amy Foster's team has basically fallen apart. The project is basically at a standstill and looks like it will stay that way," she wrote.

Since May, city staff has been planning the development with Troy-based, Chinese-American "developer" Amy Xue Foster. Foster, who has an unclear background in finance and real estate, started International Village LLC and is proposing the project for 28 acres of the city-owned Water Street property.

Her plans call for a development that would mostly house Chinese students. Around 40 percent of the project is to be funded by the controversial EB-5 visa program.

Record searches on Xue Foster by Metro Times and Defend Affordable Ypsilanti show nothing that indicates that she has the experience to carry out a project of this size.

Murdock said the project showed promise on paper, but "as always, the devil is in the details," he said.

Since the outset, the project has been mired in controversy. Misrepresentations by city officials led to several ongoing investigations into whether Mayor Amanda Edmonds and other city staff acted unethically or illegally in taking a trip to China funded by a still unknown source.

Early on, residents and Defend Affordable Ypsilanti raised concerns over how the project will impact housing affordability throughout the rest of the city.

Before a Sept. 19 vote on the purchase agreement for the sale of the city-owned land to International Village LLC, the development team announced that it would seek tax incentives. City council members said that they were told International Village LLC would not use tax incentives.

On Sept. 21, two days after the vote, four city officials left for a trip to China. Xue Foster, Ernat, and Mayor Amanda Edmonds told other city officials that Wayne State University's Chinese Students and Scholars Association funded the trip. But a Metro Times investigation found that to be untrue. That led to internal and external investigations into the matter.

Since then, Edmonds admitted under oath at a hearing on the trip convened by the rest of city council that she knew that the funds came from the Chinese Consulate in Chicago before leaving for the trip, but didn't tell other city officials. It also appears Ernat and Xue Foster knew that the WSU's CSSA wasn't the source of the trip's funding.

Council's investigation into the issue will continue. The city also hired an independent attorney — Farmington Hills-based Plato Law — to investigate who paid for the China trip. It's unclear whether city manager Darwin McClary or city council will work with the attorney on that investigation. Officials have questioned whether McClary should play any role in an investigation of his office and his staff.

RELATED Independent counsel will investigate Ypsilanti mayor's, officials' China trip

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