By Carol Cain
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has given the thumbs down to trying to bring two giant pandas to the Motor City.
Snyder, a Republican who is traveling across the nation this week to talk up Michigan’s revival, is said to be considering entering the congested 2016 field of GOP presidential hopefuls.
Detroit is a critical piece of the story Snyder is now telling. Detroit emerged from bankruptcy last year after Kevyn Orr, who was appointed Emergency Manager by Snyder, took dramatic steps to restructure its massive debt.
Snyder raised the idea of securing two pandas during an exclusive conversation with me on CBS 62’s “Michigan Matters” in Dec. 2013. He wanted to bring pandas – the undisputed rock stars of the animal kingdom – to Detroit to raise money and attention for the city.
He tapped Dennis Muchmore, his chief of staff, to lead the effort. Muchmore gathered an impressive group of leaders to further vette the idea which has been taking place the past year.
There was talk of bringing the pandas to Belle Isle which became a state park last year as part of the city’s bankruptcy. The thought was the pandas might ease disdain some residents felt about the state taking over the iconic park.
“After a number of months of investigation and analysis, it has been determined that it would be too expensive to bring giant pandas to Michigan at this time,” Muchmore told me. The costs would have been over $50 million with the bulk going towards building a structure for them and their upkeep over the 10-year contract the pandas typically are loaned for.
Muchmore and his team were only in the anaylsis phase and did not have any official discussions with the Chinese government about it. Muchmore didn’t close the door to ever going after giant pandas again down the road, “just not in the near future.”
The giant panda is on the endangered list with 1,600 alive in the wild and another 300 in zoos and breeding grounds. Zoos in Washington, D.C., San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis have giant pandas.
China has been loaning pandas to other countries since 1984.
Carol Cain is the Emmy award winning Senior Producer/Host of CBS62’s “Michigan Matters.” She also writes about politics and business in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press.