Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
After weeks of debate and sometimes raucous dissent, leaders in Detroit and Lansing finally signed off on a financial stability agreement for the city yesterday.
You can read the full agreement here. But as important as the agreement is, it doesn’t actually solve any of Detroit’s pressing financial problems. It merely lays out the structure and the powers of the new group that will.
So today is when the real work begins.
The Detroit Free Press reports today that the first step in the process is to hire 11 people. Mayor Dave Bing is in charge of finding the first two:
Mayor Dave Bing now has six days to create the positions of the city’s chief financial officer and program management director and 30 days after that to hire the people for the positions. Those holding the jobs must have experience in municipal finance and balancing the books of a government operation of at least $250 million. The candidate list and ultimate hires will have to be approved by Snyder and Bing.
The mayor, governor, state treasurer and city council will also each have a say about who goes on the nine-member financial advisory board that will oversee the city’s finances for the next few years.
Detroit’s deal Last night, the Detroit City Council voted to approve a consent agreement with the state to avoid takeover by an emergency manager. That means, as long as the governor signs the deal as expected and the courts don’t strike the deal down, Detroit finally has the first step in a plan to avoid bankruptcy. Partner station Michigan Radio reports on what it all means.
Chicago’s debt problem The Chicago Sun-Times went looking for reasons why Chicago would turn to private partnerships to fund its new multi-billion dollar plan to rebuild infrastructure. One major reason: the city’s staggering debt. Chicago can’t take out any more bonds to pay for improvements because the city spends almost 23 percent of its annual budget paying off the $7.3 billion in debt it already has.
No more coal ash The Ludington Daily News reports the city’s historic car ferry has received a grant to convert its fuel source. Without the grant, the coal powered ferry would have been forced to shut down by the EPA. The historic vessel dumps about 500 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan every year.
Groupon’s bad week It’s been a rough couple of days for Chicago-based Groupon. The coupon website was forced to revise its previous financial statements, and admit it has “material weakness” in its accounting practices. The SEC is reportedly looking into the problems. And now, the Chicago Tribune says a shareholder has filed a class action lawsuit.
By the time you read this, Detroit leaders may have already reached a deal to avoid a state takeover. Or not. City council was scheduled to meet as of this posting to decide whether to sign a consent agreement with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s administration.
The agreement could still be blocked in the courts, causing further confusion and panic in a city that’s already had plenty of both. According to state statute, a deal must be signed by midnight Thursday, or the governor will be forced to appoint an emergency manager.
It is against this political and economic backdrop that the Detroit-based electronic indie-pop band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has decided to release its latest video for the song “We Almost Lost Detroit.”
“We Almost Lost Detroit” began for us as an homage to one of the great artists of our time, Gil Scott Heron. We were so affected by its continued relevance as a piece of work some 30+ years later that just simply attempting to reinterpret it as a creative exercise seemed like a good enough idea on its own. While the song was originally penned as a reaction to a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor halfway between Detroit,MI and Toledo,OH, so much of the imagery contained in Gil’s words seemed to ring true with the news of today.
For the past few years, the Hotel Pontchartrain in Detroit has stood shuttered and empty, a looming symbol of the city’s better days. But now, the Pontch looks like it is coming back to life, thanks to a Mexican developer.
The Detroit News reported this morning that the 25-story hotel was purchased by Gabriel Ruiz, a Mexican businessman, and that the hotel will become a Crowne Plaza once more.
Bill Bohde, a senior vice president of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the InterContinental Hotels Group, which runs the Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts chain, informed him of the sale last week.
Bohde says he understands the group has an agreement in principle to make it part of the Crowne Plaza chain, and restore it as a 416-room property.
Fewer people on welfare Partner station WCPN reports Ohio’s welfare rolls dropped 18 percent in one year. One reason is the improving economy. But the station reports that a bigger reason is tighter welfare rules.
Detroit has a lot of vacant land. That much, you’ve probably heard by now. On Sunday, the Detroit Free Press took a look at efforts to put that land to use, and along the way, the paper rounded up some eye-popping statistics you might not have heard:
There are more than 100,000 vacant residential lots in the city of Detroit.
If you include commercial property, nearly a third of the city is vacant.
If you put all of the vacant land together, the entire city of Paris could fit inside.
The vacant land could also fit 25,000 football fields.
Only 40% of the real estate parcels in the entire city have owners who pay their property taxes on time.
Over the past 30 years in Detroit, 10 residential structures were demolished for every one that was built.
There are plenty of people who want to put this vacant land to use. But that’s proving more complicated than it sounds, thanks especially to a law passed by Michigan voters in 2006.
Chicago is experiencing record ridership of the CTA, and it’s on a drive to spruce up 100 stations. Cleveland has high speed buses from downtown to the Medical Center. In Canada, Toronto has streetcars and every kind of transit you can imagine, including rental bikes.
But Detroit? Well, besides the People Mover, public transportation has never been a big priority. However, mindsets may be changing, according to veteran journalist Rick Haglund.
Skeptical city council Detroit City Council members got a look at a new proposal from the state to resolve the city’s financial crisis, and it didn’t go well, according to partner station Michigan Radio. The two sides have five days to reach a deal, before the governor is forced to impose a restructuring plan, which would likely include the appointment of an emergency manager. But as Michigan Radio reports, “it’s clear the two sides are still a long way apart.”
NATO … more like “NO-DOUGH,” amiright? The Chicago Tribune reports that the federal government usually covers all of the security costs related to hosting a NATO summit. But in Chicago, the government is only covering half the cost. Corporate donors are picking up the rest of the tab.