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Duggan works to drum up public support for proposed land swap

University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is out and about in Detroit, trying to drum up support for a controversial land deal.

The proposed deal involves the city receiving almost 5 acres of riverfront property, currently owned by the Ambassador Bridge Company, along with $3 million. The city will use that to expand and improve Riverside Park, which is adjacent to the bridge in southwest Detroit.

Down the line—and subject to certain state and federal approvals-- the city would transfer 3 acres of city-owned land immediately west of the Ambassador Bridge to the Bridge Company, in return for an additional $2 million.

The Bridge Company has long coveted that land to build a second span connecting Detroit and Windsor—something the Canadian government opposes.  

At a community meeting in southwest Detroit Thursday, Duggan called the proposed land swap a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to improve Riverside Park.

At the meeting, many residents were leery of making any kind of deal with the Bridge Company, which has a troubled history of blighted properties and illegally seizing land—even in Riverside Park itself.

“There is a serious problem of trust,” Kevin Casillas, pastor at First Latin American Baptist Church in Detroit's Delray neighborhood, told Duggan. “You really are presenting a false choice. There are other ways of getting funds to work on this park.”

Duggan disagreed. He admitted the Bridge Company has been a bad actor in the past, but insists this deal is solid.

“I did what I thought was the best I can do, which is set up a contract that doesn’t rely on trust,” Duggan said.

But some City Council and community members worry the deal has too much wiggle room. An analysis by the Council staff suggested that portions of the contract might be unenforceable.

And there are concerns about the city supporting a second bridge span when another public bridge is already in the works further downriver.

“If it were solely about building a park and increasing recreational opportunities, I’d have no problem supporting it,” said City Council member Raquel Casteneda-Lopez, who represents southwest Detroit. "Unfortunately the legal document speaks to the construction of a second span, and that’s very problematic.”

The City Council still needs to approve the plan.  

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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