Friday, April 12, 2024
DetroitEconomic DevelopmentHousing

Billionaire Owner of Losing Sports Team Wants More Handouts

Yesterday, the Detroit City Council deferred a vote to lavish public subsidies on a new project of the healthcare industrial complex connected to the billionaire owner of the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons (behind even the San Antonio Spurs with only eight wins). It’s an old story, but one that can still be told.

But as Dave Gifford, our Southeast Michigan historian and perpetual infrastructure Eeyore, pointed out, Gores spent $100 million in 2016 to acquire a bunch of properties including a new house. Or maybe it was $38 million that he spent to buy back his old house. It’s hard to keep track. Anyway, he’s not exactly strapped for cash. But nor are billionaires strangers to the concept of asking for money when they already have plenty of it. Stephen Ross is a great example. Water is wet.

Henry Ford Health

The plan as announced is vague, but refers mostly to an area farther from the HFHS mothership on West Grand Boulevard, which includes the main building (built in 1915) as well as numerous additions and expansions. The surrounding area is substantially dominated by– you guessed it- parking lots. I’ve highlighted below a 10.5 acre parking lot between 3rd Avenue and the Lodge Freeway below to show how preposterously inefficient the land use is in this area. As pictured in the renderings, a chunk of this site appears to be part of the redevelopment plan, but you never really know.

If you recall the days when I was chronicling Detroit’s parking spaces, an 11-acre site would be enough space to build the better part of a whole ass city.  Assumptions:

  • We have 435,600 square feet of land on 10.5 acres of parking lot.
  • Let’s say you have five-story buildings on this site at a thoroughly modest FAR of 3.00.
  • Let’ assume an occupiable square footage of 80%. This gives us 1,045,440 square feet.
  • At 862 square feet per unit, this gives us over 1200 apartment units.

1200 apartment units could generate millions of dollars in revenue and millions of dollars in local economic impact. This would in fact, increase the number of occupiable dwelling units in the city by the better part of a whole percentage point. This seems like it might be a better use of the land than its current use, which, according to city tax records, currently generates $0 in tax revenue. That’s right! Parcel 04001350. (“period” intentionally included because of the bizarre numbering scheme for the parcels) currently generates $0 in taxable revenue from $690,542 in stated improved value.

It’s not clear to me how that math works.

If HFHS and this Gores guy can come back with a deal like that– to actually build things that might be useful for community development as opposed to just playgrounds for a losing sports team and an endless and eternal expansion of the healthcare industrial complex- I might well support some lavish public subsidy package. Yes, it’s true that the plan does include plans for about half this number of new housing units. But this is secondary in the plan, and the lack of specificity– combined with a track record of major developers in the city of overpromising and underdelivering- doesn’t inspire confidence. Until the day when more specificity arrives (which seems unlikely), well, it doesn’t actually matter what I think as either a taxpayer or a city planner with a decade of professional experience in community and economic development, because the city council seems like it’s going to approve it anyway.

Henry Ford Health had not responded to a request for comment as of the time of publication.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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