DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Gov. Rick Snyder signed two laws Monday intended to accelerate private development of the Michigan State Fairgrounds, a 160-acre site where urban met rural for more than a century and where a famous racehorse got his start.
The state fair ended in 2009 when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Michigan no longer could afford the annual event. The land is in Detroit, just south of the city’s border with Oakland County.
The fairgrounds will be transferred to a state land bank, which has the power to quickly sell, demolish or rehabilitate property.
Snyder said the fairgrounds is now open for development proposals. A local 6-member advisory committee will have input on future uses.
“It could be almost any kind of development,” he said after signing laws outside the state fair coliseum, the former home of horse shows and rodeos.
“I think we’ll see progress fairly quickly because people have been aware, developers have been aware that we are working on a process to do this. And so I think people have had concepts or visions of what could be done with the fairgrounds.
“We just want to make sure we give enough people an opportunity to come. So, that will be part of the normal bid process,” Snyder said.
The land, however, can’t be used for a prison, jail, casino, rail yard or tracks for car racing or horse racing. The land was appraised at $13 million in 2007, but its worth just two years later was considered “negligible” because of the poor economy and the cost of demolishing buildings and removing lead paint and asbestos, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.
A sign at the fairgrounds notes that famous horse Seabiscuit had his first significant victories at the fairgrounds in 1936.
Sen. Virgil Smith Jr., D-Detroit, would like to see a movie theater and big-box retailers. The neighborhood directly south of the fairgrounds has abandoned homes and schools, while an area to the west has some of the oldest and grandest homes in Detroit.
“I’m tired of blighted property in my city. I’m hopeful this can be a positive,” Smith said.
Snyder said he has no plan to revive the state fair in another location – “we’re busy enough” – although he might be open to a public-private partnership, such as the one that runs a separate fair in the Upper Peninsula.
“It’s a great event,” the governor said.
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