Magic Johnson, partners will develop State Fairgrounds

Historic Detroit site will be developed with housing, retail, park

By Guy Gordon - Reporter/Anchor

DETROIT - It was a slam dunk on Wednesday.

State Land Bank officials unanimously approved the sale of the State Fairgrounds property in Detroit to Magic Johnson and his development group, for $4.65 million. His partner is REDICO, which developed the Meijer project next door.

There is no up-front money. Johnson and partners will re-pay the state out of future revenues.

In addition to the sales proceeds, it wipes out the $1 million annual cost to the city to maintain the site and puts it on the tax rolls.

"But also the wherewithal that Magic Johnson brings as a business person, as well as Joel Ferguson. So, we're very confident in where we have headed in terms process but also the caliber of developer we have brought to the table here," said Deborah Muchmore, Land Bank chair.

The site plan includes a big box retailer, movie theater, entertainment venues, preservation of some historic buildings and plans to tie into rapid transit including the M-1 rail plan up Woodward Avenue.

Developers say it's much more than a retail center.

"We talked about residential housing -- single family. There will be private homes in there. We think this is a great location and there is a demand for senior living," said Bruce Babiarz, REDICO spokesman.

But some residents are reluctant to let go of the past. They would like to see the fair return or another public use.

"It's a phenomenal, unique venue. We don't need another Northland or Eastland," said Bob Lang, Detroit resident.

Some neighbors feel they were ignored but others are pleased to see this project.

"This is the time for development. Let us join cities such as Pittsburgh, D.C., Atlanta and start growing our city inside our city," said Marcus Cummings, of the Schaefer 7-8 Association.

Detroit Future Cites will begin community forums to make sure that community involvement continues. The Department Natural Resources will work on a new pocket park.

Johnson's team can now begin looking for tenants and retailers while making required physical improvements near-term before construction.

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