Citizens organize around former Fairgrounds’ future

Citizens organize around former Fairgrounds’ future
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What’s a neighborhood to do when the city’s largest parcel of land with development potential becomes available at its front doorstep?

If you’re Karen and Frank Hammer of the Greenacres Woodward Civic Association, and the property is the 157-acre former home to the Michigan State Fair, you spring into action.

Members of the State Fair Development Coalition confer at a meeting to update community stakeholders in June. L to R: Jeffrey Jones, Albert Martin, and Karen Hammer. Photo by Paul Engstrom

The activist couple, each with long careers in union organizing and public service, was instrumental in forming the State Fair Development Coalition (SFDC) and have been joined by dozens of concerned stakeholders. The group recognizes enormous potential that the redevelopment could serve as many as 24 distinct communities bordering corridors along Woodward Avenue and Eight Mile Road.

The SFDC is comprised of individuals, communities, elected officials, businesses, non-profits, and other organizations from throughout Michigan and Canada, according to its website. Its goal is to ensure Public Act 74, signed into law in 2012, serves its stated purpose to oversee sale of the fairgrounds to a private developer for “the highest and best use.” The law further required the establishment of a Fairgrounds Advisory Committee to “provide input and make recommendations on the sale and use of the property.”

Organizers say they have the most at stake where development decisions are concerned, and they insist the public’s preferences be reflected in use of the state-owned land.

Frank Hammer,  member of the State Fair Development Coalition and the Fairgrounds Advisory Committee appointed by Gov. Snyder, presents elements of the Coalition’s vision to nearly 100 community stakeholders in June while Coalition member Jeffery Jones looks on. Photo by Paul Engstrom

As early as June 25, 2012, Karen Hammer wrote to Gov. Rick Snyder on behalf of the coalition, asking the Fairgrounds remain home of the State Fair, historic buildings and older trees on the property be preserved, and a year-round expo center be created on the site to optimize its central location for transit-oriented development. The coalition further advocated that the new development put a premium on job creation and leadership in green industry and technology.

By late 2012 the coalition’s development preferences were articulated in a plan that came to be known as META Expo, based on accentuating a Michigan Energy Technology Agriculture showplace or exposition center.

The initial two rounds of redevelopment plans for the fairgrounds, proposed by Magic Plus, LLC in August 2012 and, later, in March 2015, were widely criticized for what critics compared to the same kinds of suburban developments failing in retail markets across the country.

Three months later, following the March 2015 presentation, Detroit Planning Director Maurice Cox moved to slow down the project design process to incorporate more elements of the plan proposed by the community coalition.

Coalition spokesperson Jeffrey Jones says a later meeting with Magic Plus principal member Joel Ferguson led to some progress.

“Since then, the Magic Plus team has incorporated some of the design features captured by the META Expo plan, such as the effort to preserve the natural features of the site and designing a closer relationship with the surrounding neighborhoods,” Jones says.

The Magic Plus team has also incorporated changes in its original proposal to make the site more walkable, green, and more accessible both Detroiters and residents of nearby suburbs. Still, Jones says the SFDC would like to see more enhancements.

“The project should speak to the region’s needs and be a destination,” he says. “The other area we’d still like to see some improvements made in is transit and mobility.”

The coalition has recruited the support of a research team from the Michigan State University’s School of Social Work, which has developed a survey for community residents and stakeholders to express its vision and preferences for the development site. Already input has been collected from about 300 respondents. The coalition is also looking for participants in focus groups of eight to 10 people, along with individual feedback about the project.

Members of the State Fair Development Coalition hosted a community update meeting in June attended by dozens of community stakeholders. Pictured from left to right: Leigh Rauk, MSU intern, Dr. Marya Sosulski, MSU Dept of Social Work, Jeffrey Jones, Euni Rose, Albert Martin, Karen Hammer and Frank Hammer.

The neighborhood survey is still open for the public to contribute their thoughts about the project. To access the survey follow this link: https://msu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6Mdoqgcjo4LgSpL

For more information, call (313) 986-1726 or visit www.mifairgroundsfuture.org.

 

 

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