Detroit City Council weighs Riverside Park land swap deal today

Jul 21, 2015 at 1:14 pm

The proposed deal struck between Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Moroun family that owns the Ambassador Bridge is being considered in a closely watched meeting of Detroit City Council today. The agreement would give Moroun a piece of Riverside Park he needs to build his desired second span, and would give millions of dollars to the city for gussying up Riverside Park, as well as land to expand it. Under the deal, the Morouns would also put hundreds of windows into Michigan Central Station. 

Despite upbeat pronouncements from the mayor and some in the media, it's a hard sell. Why? Why won't people trust the deal about Riverside Park? As Matthew Moroun, heir to his father's billion-dollar fortune put it in a fireside chat with Rochelle Riley, "There's just so much acrimony."

Well, maybe it was the way Moroun's company took over the park, installing cyclone fencing, staffing it with a shotgun-toting security guard, and posting a bogus homeland security warning

Or it might have been the way the company built its "ramp to nowhere" without permission to build a bridge, then claimed that the ramp wasn't part of a bridge after all.

There are also reports that the bridge company installed utilities in the park last year without city permission, and the meeting is now taking place before the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality releases a report July 20, on charges that the work increased the possibility of site contamination.

Groups have petitioned against the agreement, state Rep. Stephanie Chang is opposed to it, and former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib does too.

This isn't mere "acrimony." It's about a company that's behaved as if it's above the law, and let everybody know it. It's about a company that has gone back on agreements with no less than the Michigan Department of Transportation over the Gateway Project, which even landed "Matty" Moroun in jail. As Curt Guyette once wrote for MT: "You cannot believe a word that comes from the mouths of these people." Jack Lessenberry once quoted Roy Norton, Canada's consul general in Detroit, as saying, "The Morouns act as if, by virtue of being billionaires, they are entitled to do whatever they want." 

For his part, Mayor Duggan is appearing all the oilier after consorting with the Morouns. The mayor's office has largely conducted negotiations in secret, with some officials going outside their official city email accounts in the process.

There are also  Joel Thurtell's allegations that Duggan staffers lied to two Wayne State University reporters seeking the agreement.

Then there are the word games: The DNR has warned the city that it should not enter any land transaction until the DNR can clear it; the mayor's office says it's not a land transaction, it's an agreement. 

The whole situation, from the Morouns' crocodile tears to Duggan's under-the-table footsie, is classic Detroit politics. It now falls to the city council to see what they can do with it. One thing is certain: Many are watching.