Detroit City Council voted 6-3 to approve the land transfer of 3.8 acres to the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) near St. Anne Basilica. This was the final step needed for the completion of Riverside Park. Some community residents of the Hubbard Richard Neighborhood, where DIBC is located, are concerned that this is a step towards DIBC expansion efforts. While other community members are excited to see the completion of Riverside Park.
The land being transferred, 3085 W. Jefferson Ave., is the final part of a 2015 agreement with DIBC and the City of Detroit that included funds for improvements and upgrades to Riverside Park. This land transfer was the final step towards the completion of the Riverside Park that will eventually connect to the Joe Louis Greenway. Riverside Park is part of the citywide riverfront restoration efforts. Thanks to these efforts USA Today recently named the Detroit Riverwalk the best riverwalk in the country for the third consecutive year!
When Detroit City Council approved this land transfer in 2015, there was no ordinance for a Community Benefits Agreements in the City of Detroit. It wasn’t until 2016 that a Community Benefits Agreement ordinance was put in place. This is a law that requires developers to include and engage community members in order to ensure that benefits and concerns around development are addressed- separate from Detroit City Council initiatives.
Matthew Moroun, owner of DIBC, noted initial plans of “landscaping” for the parcel that would serve as a buffer between the community and the Ambassador Bridge truck plaza. It was not clear if this was in addition to, or in place of, the current buffer of the pink-brown wall along St. Anne St. Moroun, however, declared “We are not going to build a new bridge.”
Community opposition to the land transfer included a rally of 40 community residents at the corner of St. Anne St. & Porter St. on Monday evening February 20th to demonstrate against the Moroun family business, the Detroit International Bridge Company, and the company’s historical disregard for the bridge’s impact on the community. The rally energized Hubbard Richard community residents with almost 50 residents making public comments, in person or through Zoom, in front of Detroit City Council. It must be said that at least three Southwest residents provided comments entirely in Spanish. Councilmember Angela Whitfield-Calloway noted that it was not acceptable that these individuals made their comments to Council without an interpreter present.
There was a mix of opinions shared in favor and against the land transfer during public comments, but what was commonly shared by all residents was their support of Riverside Park as an investment for all Detroiters. Mary Carmen Muñoz, executive director of Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, Inc. (LA SED), noted that she was “Glad that the issue is moving forward. Riverside Park is a community park that has changed Southwest and the whole City of Detroit for the better.”
Council President Mary Sheffield noted that if Detroit City Council did not approve the land transfer a “court would say that Council is in breach of contract”. This was a point that Corporate Counsel for the city, Conrad Mallet, also provided legal clarity. Given the legal bind this could put the city in, Council voted to approve the land transfer. Council also included a request that DIBC would continue community negotiations for any plans regarding the land being transferred. This would be in accordance with the city’s ordinance on Community Benefits Agreements (CBA’s).
Moroun said that he “was happy to engage in talking about other agreements” and that he “thinks there are some very positive outcomes that can be reached” regarding future plans for the parcel at 3085 W. Jefferson Ave and properties his family also owns on the Eastside of Detroit.
DIBC has 30 days to update Detroit City Council on progress in the continued community negotiations regarding the land near St. Anne Basilica. “I look forward to working with the Hubbard Richard Community or anybody else” concluded Moroun.
Council members Mary Sheffield, Mary Waters, Angela Whitfield-Calloway, Coleman Young II, Scott Benson and Fred Durhal III voted to approve the land transfer. Council members Raquel Santiago-Romero, James Tate and Latisha Johnson voted against it.