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Detroit will trade land with Moroun family for new bridge span

Kate Wells

Detroit has struck a deal with the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, the Moroun family, which gives the company a strip of city-owned land they need in order to build a second bridge span.

The bargain: a land swap between Detroit and Moroun

The three acres surrounding the Ambassador Bridge are currently part of Riverside Park on the city’s southwest side.

But before the city deeds over that land, the Moroun family will have to give Detroit the following:

  1. Five acres of Moroun-owned land on the other side of Riverside Park, which will become part of the park;
  2. $3 million to renovate the park this fall, including news sports fields, picnic areas, and demolishing an old Detroit News warehouse when its tenancy ends in 2018;
  3. 1,050 new windows installed in the iconic, abandoned Michigan Central train depot. The Moroun family owns the depot and has allowed it to fall into disrepair. The new windows have to be installed by the end of this year.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
Credit Kate Wells
Michigan Radio
Mayor Duggan lays out the land swap

In exchange, Mayor Mike Duggan says he’s also agreed to support the Moroun family’s bid to build a second bridge span.

“I think this the start of a different kind of relationship,” said Duggan, speaking of the city’s years-long conflicts with the Moroun family, which owns a lot of land in Detroit.

Putting 1,000 new windows in the Michigan Central train depot

Duggan said today that the deal is a big step forward towards rehabbing the massive train station and hopefully, one day, having new business move in.  

“The international images that have been shown on Detroit of a train station with the wind blowing through, will be a thing of the past,” he said.

“I won’t tell you it’ll get us all the way home, but it’ll get us another significant step closer to when we see the full development [of the train depot.]”

The outside of Michigan Central Train Station

Duggan added that it’s hard to get any kind of renovations going inside the building while it’s currently exposed to the elements, and that at least putting windows up sends a good message to the public about the city’s dedication to renovating the depot.

The Moroun family has to put up the goods before they get the land

Both the Detroit City Council and the state’s Department of Natural Resources have to approve the land swap, according to Mayor Duggan.

He says the DNR’s approval is required because the city bought those three acres of bridge-adjacent land with money set aside for parks – and that anytime you’re selling public park land, the DNR has to give its OK.

“The Morouns are transferring the money and the property to us and they’re taking the chance that they’re going to get state DNR approval,” said Duggan.

“Because the deal we’ve made is this: they put the windows in the train station right now by the end of the year. They deed us this five acres of land right now. They give us the $3 million check so we can start improving the park right now.”

Meanwhile, Matt Moroun – the son of the famous Matty Moroun – said they’re all in.

“You know how much my family wants to build that bridge, right?” Matt Moroun said today. “So if we don’t put the windows in the depot by the end of the year as a good first step, we don’t get to do that. So I can’t give you any greater assurances than that.”

If the Morouns do ultimately get all the necessary approval to build the second span of the bridge – which would have to come from the U.S. federal government, the Canadians, and environmental regulators – then they would give another $2 million to help renovate Riverside Park. 

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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