Detroiters wondering about the future of the long-vacant State Fairgrounds might have a better idea after March 21. A Wednesday meeting of the Michigan Land Bank Authority in Lansing will determine if the Magic Plus, LLC investment group, which won a proposal to transform the site into commercial property, moves forward after years of little visible activity at the Michigan State Fair’s former location.
Community members and close observers of the project speculate that there might be a change of course since Magic Plus announced plans to pump an estimated $1 billion into the 160 acres located at Woodward Avenue and Eight Mile Road, part of a vision including retail, senior living and a satellite college campus. Some critics of the proposal say it simply replicates the popular suburban mall model and lacks traits like sustainability and eco-friendliness that could benefit the surrounding neighborhoods.
Josh Burgett, Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority director, announced in December that the original development agreement with Magic Plus, LLC had expired and next steps would likely be determined during early 2018.
Marvin Beatty, principal member of Magic Plus, which includes support from basketball legend and Michigan native Earvin “Magic” Johnson, remains confident (see Making Magic: Former Fairground is site of $1 billion vision)
“We certainly have every expectation to move forward,” Beatty says.
The City of Detroit’s Planning and Development Department temporarily holds the State Fairgrounds while its fate is determined, but city officials including John Roach, spokesman for the mayor, offered no knowledge or insight. None of TheHUB’s multiple telephone calls or e-mails to Deputy Communications Director Tim Carroll received a response.
State Fair attendance dwindled in the years preceding its 2010 closure in 2010 and the fair was eventually relocated to Novi. Detroit Department of Transportation and SMART buses represent most of the site’s daily activity, delivering and retrieving passengers at the outdoor State Fair terminal. Gov. Rick Snyder once proposed a commuter rail depot for the site.
State Rep. Rashida Tlaib lamented delays in the planning process for the former Fairgrounds in a Facebook post: “The deal (with Magic Johnson, etc.) has been made with the State of Michigan over five years ago with no real input from the community.”
Nearby neighborhood residents Frank and Karen Hammer have shown active interest in the site since the fair was relocated after 104 years at the location (see Citizens organize around Fairgrounds’ future). The pair formed the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition. The group worked with local and regional stakeholders to develop a proposal for a mixed-use plan to build the site into a regional transit hub and what it calls the METAexpo (Michigan Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, Expo). Supporters say the plan is a modernized interpretation of the State Fair’s objectives to bring citizens together and celebrate quality craft, products, and innovation.
Magic Plus announced plans to break ground at the site this year, after addressing challenges like contamination on the property. But Frank Hammer speculates delays might have been an issue of scale.
“The attempt to develop 160 acres of land was a very big undertaking,” Hammer says, “and it may have been that they bit off more than they could chew.”