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Genesyxx
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Posted on Saturday, February 16, 2008 - 7:29 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

From today's Detroit News:

It's been L. Brooks Patterson against the world in challenging the financial underpinnings of a nearly $600 million plan to expand and modernize Cobo Center. But now the Oakland County executive has picked up an unlikely ally: Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick sent a letter to Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, author of the latest Cobo proposal, accusing Ficano of misrepresenting how much money the city of Detroit is willing to commit to the project and how much control it's willing to relinquish.

"I do not support the financing plan as proposed by Executive Ficano," Kilpatrick says in the letter dated Feb. 14.

Ficano is behind a three-bill package moving through the state Legislature that would transfer ownership of Cobo to an independent authority and finance a roughly 125,000-square-foot addition by restructuring regional hotel and liquor taxes. His goal is to preserve the North American International Auto Show, Cobo's signature event, and one that wants more exhibition space to compete with other cities.

Patterson has been the most vocal opponent of Ficano's proposal, and that's drawn him relentless criticism for being an obstructionist to regional cooperation.

"I would love to see Cobo expanded, and we need to do it for the auto show," Patterson says. "But the money has to make sense."

Patterson hedged his support for the proposal on getting good answers to a series of financial questions he submitted to Ficano.

In one of the written questions, Patterson asked whether Kilpatrick and the Detroit City Council have signed off on committing the city to covering cost overruns at Cobo Center once it's sold to the authority. Ficano replies: "The mayor has agreed to the funding model. Under the proposal, the city of Detroit is the only governmental entity that is responsible for writing an annual general fund check to support operations (of) Cobo Hall. The funding requirement includes (an) operating subsidy, if any, as well as funding municipal services to Cobo, including police, fire and EMS."

Ficano tells Patterson that "the mayor has agreed to this arrangement" in exchange for additional representation on the regional Cobo authority.

Not so, says Kilpatrick. "I have not, and would not agree to any funding model as proposed by Wayne County," the mayor writes. "I have not, and would not agree to first transfer operational authority of a city facility to an authority, and second have the city remain liable for its operations.

"That completely defeats the purpose of the city's relinquishing operational control in favor of an authority."

Kilpatrick's letter also questions whether the City Council would approve the sale of Cobo to the regional authority without protecting the rights of workers, saying that issue could "create a political firestorm."

Ficano responded with a letter of his own to Kilpatrick, expressing his "strong dismay and confusion with your letter "

The mayor's letter, Ficano writes, "is directly contrary to your commitments made consistently to me and the private sector since August of 2006 on this plan."

Ficano reminds Kilpatrick that their two staffs have met several times on the issue.

"Now, after sending word to me and the entire Detroit state legislative delegation that you support the bills as proposed, your letter is just baffling."

In a statement, Ficano called the flap "another obstacle of many we have faced over the past two years" and said he'd be meeting soon with all of the stakeholders to resolve the dispute.

Kilpatrick's objections matter since Detroit has veto power over the deal.

There may be something else at work here. Kilpatrick is reportedly concerned that language in the bills could open the door for the Cobo authority to buy or build other convention facilities, specifically at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The mayor is livid about an initiative, backed by Ficano, to open an Indian casino in Romulus next to the airport. The casino also has the support of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But Kilpatrick worries a fourth casino would drain business from Detroit's gaming houses and cost the city tax revenue.

Ficano and other regional leaders are backing the idea of an aerotropolis around Metro that would lure jobs and businesses to Michigan. But Kilpatrick suspects the idea is morphing from creating a transportation hub to adding an entertainment district that would include the casino and a horse racing track, and would compete with downtown Detroit.

"We have not seen a business case showing how an aerotropolis helps the city of Detroit," says George Jackson, head of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. "We also haven't seen one that shows it doesn't hurt the city of Detroit. We need to see both."

The growing hard feelings over Cobo Center and the Romulus casino threaten to derail the fragile effort by Metro Detroit's business leaders to achieve regional unity on economic development.

What those leaders haven't figured out yet is how, in a stagnant economy, one community can grow without draining another.

That question comes into play with the Cobo expansion and the new casino, and how it's resolved will determine whether the notion of One D(etroit) can become anything more than a hopeful slogan.

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