Court order temporarily halts sale of former Michigan State Fairgrounds site

Group claims Detroit ignored state, city laws amid sale of public land

Former State Fairgrounds site in Detroit
Former State Fairgrounds site in Detroit

DETROIT – The sale of the former Michigan State Fairgrounds has been halted by a court order just over a week after the sale was approved.

The Wayne County Circuit Court issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday to halt the sale of 142 acres of the former fairgrounds site to two development groups. The Detroit City Council approved the sale on October 20, making the land available for a proposed Amazon distribution center and new indoor transit center.

On October 19 the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city of Detroit and its mayor, Mike Duggan, claiming that the city did not follow state and city laws while selling the “largest parcel of contiguous public land” in Detroit.

“Pursuant to a voters' initiative in 2016, the citizens of the City of Detroit adopted a community benefits ordinance requiring that the city proceed through a specified community benefits process before large parcels of city land may be sold at a price below the land’s market value and without a public bid,” the complaint reads. “In 2020, the Detroit City Council adopted a Community Outreach Ordinance requiring a specified outreach process before amending the city’s master plan. In the present case, the Defendants have failed to follow the requirements of both the city’s Community Benefits Ordinance and the Community Outreach Ordinance.”

The plaintiffs allege that Duggan and the city have utilized invalid methods to appraise the land in an effort to deliberately understate the fair market value of the former state fairgrounds site. According to the complaint, city documents reveal that Detroit appraised the land at a fair market value price of $11 million -- but it was actually sold for $9 million last week.

More: Detroit City Council approves sale of former State Fairgrounds site for redevelopment project

The lawsuit also alleges that the city did not take proper steps to appoint and meet with a Neighborhood Advisory Council while preparing to sell the land. According to the complaint, the city is reportedly obligated to establish a council -- comprised of at least two local residents -- to discuss the developments, any concerns related to the plans and create a process to address concerns raised by citizens under Detroit’s Community Benefits Ordinance.

“The stakes are too high, especially with environmental and health impacts, for Plaintiffs to be deprived of their opportunity to receive benefits and a means to hold the developer, Amazon, and other corporations that stand to profit accountable under the Community Benefits Ordinance,” said Tonya Myers Phillips with the Sugar Law Center.

In response to the lawsuit, the Wayne County Circuit Court ordered Wednesday that the city of Detroit halt its sale of the 142 acres for at least 14 days. The parties are scheduled to appear in court for a show cause hearing on November 9.

You can read the entire complaint and the entire court order below.

The city of Detroit initially announced a proposal to sell the 142 acres of the former fairgrounds site to two development groups, Hillwood Investment Properties and Sterling Group, in early August. Amazon was named as the anticipated first tenant of the development site, with a $400 million distribution center slated to stretch 3.8 million square feet across the area.

In addition to the $9 million asking price, Mayor Duggan said the development groups also agreed to pay $7 million for a new indoor transit center to be built on the grounds.

A proposed sale of acreage at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds would redevelop about half of the site into a new Amazon distribution center, with the rest saved for a transit center and other future developments. Image provided by the city of Detroit. (The City of Detroit)

Read the entire complaint filed by the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition below:

Read the Wayne County Circuit Court’s order below:

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