Detroit City Council votes against land transfer with Ambassador Bridge for second span

·3 min read
Vehicles move across the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, as viewed from Detroit, Monday, March 16, 2020.   (AP Photo/Paul Sancya - image credit)
Vehicles move across the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, as viewed from Detroit, Monday, March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya - image credit)

Detroit City Council has voted against handing over a 1.2-hectare parcel of land to the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, who wanted to acquire the area in order to build a second span.

At a meeting on Wednesday, a motion to transfer the property near the bridge, located at 3085 West Jefferson Ave., to the Detroit International Bridge Company, failed in a narrow 4-3 vote.

An agreement to transfer the land was made in 2015. Under the deal, the company and the city would swap ownership of the land in question and a different 1.9-hectare area along the Detroit River, allowing the city to expand Riverside Park. The city was to receive $5 million US in the agreement as well.

A final approval vote only went before council on Wednesday because the area near the bridge is designated park land, which cannot legally be sold. Other legislation had to be modified in order for the deal to progress, Lawrence Garcia, corporation counsel for the city, explained at the council meeting.

Under the agreement, Garcia said the city is required to make "best reasonable efforts to consummate the contemplated transactions" in the agreement. He suggested that by voting against the motion, council could be violating those terms and opening the city up to litigation.

"I'm not telling anybody how to vote, but I am reminding you of the public record you have made and of the contract terms that you approved six years ago and several times since," he said.

Coun. Raquel Castañeda-López, one of the councillors opposed to the transfer, disputed the lawyer's characterization of the situation.

She said there's nothing in the agreement that obligates council to green-light the transfer, and it's up to the courts to decide whether council breached its contractual obligations.

Another city lawyer who joined the meeting agreed that it would be up to a judge to determine whether the city had made best efforts.

Attorney Marcel Hurt said the position of the city's law department is that if council voted against transferring the property the worst case scenario would be that Detroit would lose $2 million it had received from the company.

According to the Detroit Free Press, 500 residents in the area signed a petition against the deal.

Detroit International Bridge Company
Detroit International Bridge Company

The company wants to add a second span and replace the bridge, which dates back to 1929.

In 2017, bridge officials received what they described as the final permit from Transport Canada to move forward with the expansion project.

But there were strings attached. A Canadian document says the company must start construction of the new span within five years and then demolish the existing bridge no more than five years after the new bridge opens to traffic.

It must also demolish dozens of boarded-up homes it owns in the shadow of the existing bridge, purchase the ones it doesn't, and then develop and maintain the area as public parkland.

A spokesperson for the Ambassador Bridge did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Thursday.

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