Fairgrounds tussle

As we all know, Detroit Public Schools is on the verge of spending $17 million to acquire property the state is selling for about $6 million, with middlemen reaping a nearly $11 million windfall.

But they’d better not start counting their haul just yet. News Hits has learned that a group of citizens, with the help of attorney George Ward, is poised to file a lawsuit in an attempt to kill the deal before any money actually changes hands.

Ward, formerly the No. 2 man in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and now at Detroit College of Law, said he would handle the case pro bono if at least five people agree to be plaintiffs and a minimum of $1,000 is raised to cover initial court costs. The money has already been collected, and the names should be gathered within a few days, according to Detroit resident Felicity Leddy, an organizer of the effort.

Here’s the background: Last year, the state agreed to sell Joe Nederlander 35 acres of property at the Michigan State Fairgrounds for $6.1 million. Nederlander, who has a long-term contract to manage the fairgrounds and improve the site, then cut a deal with controversial developer Bernie Schrott (subject of the MT expose, “Six Degrees of Bernie Schrott,” MT, Aug. 16-22, 2000). After agreeing to buy the property for $11 million, Schrott turned around and struck a deal to sell the same land for $17 million to Detroit Public Schools. DPS intends to build a high school on part of the property and sell off the rest to a “big box” retailer such as The Home Depot.

The $11 million question is: How does a piece of Detroit property increase in value that much in just 10 months?

The answer, suggests Ward, is that it doesn’t. Either the state sold the land too cheaply, or the school district is paying too much, he told those at last week’s meeting. One or the other has to be true. And that means public officials, either with the state or the school district, weren’t doing their jobs and protecting the interests of taxpayers.

“We need to nullify this deal before all this money is transferred into private hands,” said Leddy, co-founder of the group Concerned Citizens for Children of Detroit Public Schools (CCCDPS). “It’s about public money, public land and a lack of the democratic process. But most of all, it is about the district’s students.”

“The deal stinks,” adds Jim Netter, another founder of Concerned Citizens, which is currently gathering petition signatures in an attempt to impanel a grand jury to investigate the school district’s handling of $1.8 billion in bond money approved by voters in 1994. Money for the fairgrounds land deal is slated to come out of that bond fund.

Detroit Public Schools spokespersons did not respond to a call seeking comment. Neither did attorney Howard S. Rosenberg, who is listed on the purchase agreement as Schrott’s representative.

Although Ward asked for $1,000 before agreeing to take the case, he said court costs would likely be many times that amount. Anyone interested in contributing can make a check out to the School Land Litigation Fund. Address it to P.O. Box 32983, Detroit, MI 48232. For more information, contact Netter at 734-729-8812 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette, the Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail [email protected]
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