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Detroit to put a price on DIA, Windsor Tunnel and other assets

Peter Martorano

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr announced today that the city will start figuring out how much its assets are worth.

This comes as the bankrupt city is wrangling with creditors about how much of Detroit’s $11.5 billion unsecured debt will actually be repaid.

Orr also says he’s hiring Christie’s auction house to appraise the city-owned portion of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection.

It’s tough news to those still holding out hope that the museum will emerge unscathed from the bankruptcy process.

But in his statement, Orr stressed that this doesn’t mean a DIA fire sale is inevitable.

“The city must know the current value of all its assets, including the city-owned collection at the DIA," Orr said.

"There has never been, nor is there now, any plan to sell art. This valuation, as well as the valuation of other City assets, is an integral part of the restructuring process.”

If the city were to sell off the Picassos to pay creditors, it'd also be a blow to one of Detroit's biggest cultural assets.

DIA director Graham Beale says selling off the DIA’s art goes against everything Orr says he wants for the city:  

"Not just taking care of financial problems right here and now, but putting the city of Detroit in a position where it has a future."

What’s more, Beale says too many people (including reporters) are wrongly depicting this as a “who’s most deserving” debate between the museum and city pensioners, who may be facing big cuts to their checks.

“I’ve heard on multiple occasions that [the city] could sell the art, and they could get whatever couple of billions [the collection is worth], and still none of it could find its way to the pensioners,” says Beale.

“They’re just part of a whole array of people who gambled, one way or another, on Detroit."

None of this is great PR for Christie's, either.

Art bloggers called the auction house a "vulture" just for visiting the museum earlier this summer. And that was before they’d officially taken the job as appraisers.

“At Christie's, we are passionate about art and understand the importance of the contribution that institutions such as the Detroit Institute of Arts offer to the community and the world at large,” reads a statement from the organization.

“We are proud of our long history of support to museums, including the DIA.  We want to continue to focus our efforts on being a positive force in both the interests of the city of Detroit and its arts community, including working with our fellow arts professionals at the DIA and with the city to find alternatives to selling that would still provide the city with needed revenue.”

Neither Christie’s nor Orr are elaborating on what kind of “alternatives to selling” this might include.

Orr’s statement also mentions other city assets that will now be sized up.

They include “parking garages and parking meters, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, the Coleman A. Young International Airport and certain real estate holdings.”

Orr is expected to submit his proposal for emerging from bankruptcy, known as a plan of adjustment, to the court by the end of the year.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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