Feb 17, 2023 - News

District Detroit community benefits process nears finale

NAC members at a Jan. 10 meeting inside Cass Tech High School.

Neighborhood Advisory Council members at a meeting at Cass Tech High School last month. Photo: Samuel Robinson

Opinions are still clashing on how the Ilitches and Stephen Ross should be required to assist the community in return for approval of their $1.5 billion District Detroit development.

The latest: As two months of public meetings winds down, the resident-filled Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) and developers are going back and forth on a soon-to-be-finalized menu of Community Benefits Ordinance-mandated goals, including planning cultural events, involving minority-owned contractors and improving parking access.

Why it matters: This process solidifies, to an extent, how the developers should interact with the community as these construction projects unfold over the coming years.

By the numbers: The list has yet to be finalized, but District Detroit is proposing making around $12 million in financial community benefits contributions.

  • Ford's Michigan Central committed $10 million for a $740 million project, for example, and Stellantis $11.4 million for its $2.5 billion plant expansion.

Between the lines: While the developers and various NAC members agreed on issues like accepting low-income housing choice vouchers, they disagreed on others — including whether the Ilitches should offer increased internships and training opportunities and if hiring third-party consultants should constitute a community benefit.

Reality check: The proposed benefits are mostly actions the developer should already be taking, Theo Pride of activist group Detroit People's Platform tells Axios.

  • They are not being critiqued enough by the NAC, are "business-centered" and don't benefit the "average Detroiter," Pride says.

The other side: Developer representatives laid out a list of programs they're "very very proud of," including starting a bond fund for minority-owned businesses and expanding the Ilitch companies' partnership with the city's youth summer work program.

What they're saying: "The completion of this development is even more important than these negotiations," NAC member Jonathan Kinloch tells Axios. "None of the work we’ve been doing has any meaning if all of these projects don’t come online and proper enforcement of the agreement doesn’t happen."

What's next: The last scheduled benefits meeting is Tuesday at 6pm at Cass Tech.

  • NAC chairperson Chris Jackson wants to finalize the agreement and vote on it next week, he said at this week's meeting.
  • A majority of members agreed but two of the nine members, plus some public commenters, argued the process is moving too quickly and should slow down so more changes can be made.

Of note: The nearly $800 million in tax incentives and other public financing District Detroit is seeking won't be voted on by City Council until the community benefits process concludes.


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