By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON – Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s Crown Enterprises was approved by the Wayne County Commission Sept. 28 on behalf of the Land Bank to rehabilitate and develop the former McLouth Steel property.
Leah Inglehart of Mayor Kyle Stack’s office said Sept. 29 that the Wayne County Commission’s vote was 11-3 in favor, with Commissioner Joseph Palamara abstaining.
Stack and the City Council had indicated to the commission in a letter dated July 24 that Crown Enterprises had the “unequivocal support” of the mayor and council.
The purchase price is $4 million, which includes $3.88 million in unpaid property taxes from the previous owner.
Crown is owned by billionaire Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge and the dilapidated Michigan Central Station.
The former McLouth Steel plant, built in 1948, employed 6,000 people at its peak. After McLouth filed for bankruptcy, it was sold in 1996 to the Detroit Steel Co., and was underutilized. DSC foreclosed in March.
The site remains a blight to the community and poses an environmental risk, has generated no tax revenue or employment opportunities for more than two decades.
Stack said the city’s goal was that any purchaser of the site would provide investment, environmental mediation and create employment opportunities.
The city’s July 24 letter to the commission states that Crown’s planned industrial development will fulfill the three-fold goal.
The letter also states that Crown has agreed to make unspecified “philanthropic contributions” to the city of Trenton as part of the agreement, and owe damages to the city if its obligations are not met.
Demolition of the contaminated site must occur within two years, and $20 million in investment must occur in six years.
Principal Ernie D’Ascenzo of Trenton Property LLC of Farmington Hills, the second place contender, recently combined forces with the James Group, the third place contender, to try to convince the city to go with its plans instead of Crown.
During a Sept. 25 special City Council meeting, D’Ascenzo challenged Crown’s past problems with the Environmental Protection Agency, and said its plans, which are for an international dock, were more specific and actionable. He said they would leave the current structure up and renovate them as part of the remediation.
Michael Samhat, president of Crown, said the EPA plans to get the former McLouth site on the National Priorities List, which would eventually become a Superfund site, land in the U.S. contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA because of its human health and environmental risk.
“Our negotiation with them, to date, we’ve got a comfort letter, and we’re working toward a PPA (performance partnership agreement), and we hope to have that in place by the end of the year,” Samhat said. “Those are done under Superfund. We are not fighting Superfund. Our negotiation contemplates that.”
He said Crown has been a contiguous property owner of a 78-acre piece for 20 years, and have had the full purchase amount for the former McLouth site in escrow, and waived its right to get the deposit back. He would have until the end of the year to do “due diligence” and take title of the property. He said the escrow ensures that the city and county get the back taxes owed to them.
“We are committed to the site, we are committed to many things in the agreement, to take everything to grade and take the building down, and we are going to work with the EPA and state of Michigan. I think this property is a priority after two decades and everyone knows it.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])