Aug 5, 2022 - News

FOIA Friday: Bridge land deal's value

Ambassador Bridge
The Ambassador Bridge and Riverside Park. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios

We're digging into appraisal documents related to a hush-hush land deal with the owners of the Ambassador Bridge in this week's public records spotlight.

Why it matters: The deal would provide the Moroun family's Detroit International Bridge Company with a key piece of city land to build a new Ambassador Bridge. That construction would impact the surrounding community for years and eventually establish a new international crossing.

  • As with any major public land deal, we wanted to know if the city is getting fair compensation for its property – 3.8 acres of prime land at Riverside Park near the current bridge.

Flashback: This complex land deal requires multiple City Council approvals, the first of which came in 2015. As a result, a DIBC gave the city $3 million, nearly five acres of land for Riverside's expansion and a commitment to fix up the Michigan Central train depot.

  • Now the bridge company wants City Council to approve the next leg of the deal, which would send this parcel of land to the DIBC.
  • The bridge company, which did not respond to an interview request for comment yesterday, told Axios last month the city is obligated to finalize the land deal.

State of play: The records we obtained show the city's property was appraised at $495,000 in 2016. The state then asked for an updated appraisal taking plans for a new bridge into account.

  • That 2018 update pegged the value at $645,000.

What they're saying: Community members question the appraisal's accuracy given the property's necessity for a new bridge.

  • "How much is that property really worth to a billion-dollar company where that's the one location they need to build the twin span?" Sam Butler, president of the Hubbard Richard Residents Association, tells Axios.

What happened: We filed a Freedom of Information Act request on July 19 for documents assessing the land's value.

  • The Department of Natural Resources responded the next day with a batch of appraisal records at no cost.

The intrigue: Mayor Mike Duggan's office declined to comment on the appraisal, telling Axios the law department is handling the matter.

  • Councilmembers also declined to comment or did not respond.

What's next: We'll keep pressing for answers about how the appraisal factors in the deal and monitoring City Council for any public consideration of the land transfer.

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