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Kilpatrick says deal done for old depot

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Finally, some good new out of Detroit! The mayor gave his state of the city address tonight. Among the Highlights:

  • The city issued 783 new construction permits last year & had 4,400 new housing starts

  • 3,000 to 4,000 homes will be built or renovated on the city's east side, with the first new home completed by early next year in a 1200 acre redevelopment

  • City's redevelopment authority has approved 64 projects totaling $1.4 billion that will create 8,000 jobs

  • Commitment to complete the restoration of the abandoned Book-Cadillac hotel

  • Cut emergency medical service response times from 10 minutes to about 6 minutes last year

  • 30-percent reduction in house fires last year

  • Wireless hotspots at Hart Plaza & other areas downtown

Kilpatrick says deal done for old depot

Building will house police; details coming

February 25, 2004



Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick challenged Detroiters to "Dare mighty things" Tuesday night, then showed them how by announcing that the city will buy one of its biggest eyesores -- the Michigan Central Depot -- and transform it into a new police headquarters.

Without saying how much the deal will cost, Kilpatrick said Detroit will purchase the massive 91-year-old train station, which has been all but abandoned since 1988. Deals have been announced before and fallen through, but Kilpatrick said Tuesday that an agreement to purchase the building has been reached. He said he will provide details next Wednesday.

That news was the boldest pronouncement of the mayor's annual State of the City address, the third he has given since taking office. The rest of his speech, given at Orchestra Hall to hundreds of dignitaries, supporters and city officials, focused on smaller accomplishments of the past year and more modest projects Kilpatrick hopes to launch soon.

Kilpatrick acknowledged the recent slayings of Detroit Police Officers Jennifer Fettig and Matthew Bowens and vandalism to the Monument to Joe Louis that have Detroiters struggling with the chronic problems of safety and racial tension.

"There are those who believe the city is under siege with streets full of danger and despair," Kilpatrick said. "Nothing could be further from the truth.

"I vow that we will continue to work aggressively to stop the violence. But I will not allow this issue to define our city."

Although the city again faces severe budget problems -- not the least of which is a $100-million tab to comply with two federally-mandated police reform plans -- Kilpatrick said he will not lay off any police or firefighters.

He also called upon the city's clergy to partner with police to patrol neighborhoods. Kilpatrick said the volunteer effort could be modeled on Detroit's successful Halloween anti-arson campaign, known as Angels' Night.

After asking for a moment of silence for Bowens and Fettig and praising Detroit's police -- which got a standing ovation afterward -- Kilpatrick shifted into a more upbeat mode.

Among the accomplishments he listed were cutting emergency medical service response times from 10 minutes to about 6 minutes and a 30-percent reduction in house fires last year.

Kilpatrick, who has stressed improving conditions for children, said the number of vacancies in Detroit's Head Start program dropped from 1,500 to 150. Four computer clubhouses have opened in the city, and the mayor said he wants to create four more high-tech hangouts for kids at recreation centers.

Health also will be a focus in the coming months, Kilpatrick said, adding that he hopes the city can help seniors live longer and safer. Among the initiatives he outlined are four community health fairs the city will hold in conjunction with the area's major health systems.

He even poked fun at himself after challenging Detroiters to shed the "fattest city in America" title bestowed upon Detroit by Men's Fitness magazine.

"I'm not sure I agree with their criteria," the nearly 300-pound mayor said, "but it didn't help much when I showed up on television."

Despite a lagging economy and double-digit city unemployment rate, Kilpatrick said he is encouraged because the city issued 783 new construction permits last year and had 4,400 new housing starts, which he called Detroit's biggest building boom in 50 years.

He said 3,000 to 4,000 homes will be built or renovated on the city's east side, with the first new home completed by early next year.

The city's redevelopment authority also has approved 64 projects totaling $1.4 billion that he said will create 8,000 jobs.

And Kilpatrick reiterated his desire for a new billion-dollar convention center and commitment to complete the restoration of the abandoned Book-Cadillac hotel.

"To all the naysayers and hand-wringers concerned about the Book-Cadillac hotel, I have this message: Please relax," Kilpatrick said. "We will get the deal done."

The mayor also said other projects can only be done with cooperation from other elected officials. He urged the City Council to drop its objections to court proceedings involving the city's casinos.

"If council withdraws its objection, we can have shovels in the ground and cranes in the air within 30 days," he said. "This could change our economy overnight."

And Kilpatrick asked Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Legislature to approve a plan that would allow Detroiters to choose in November between a plan that would allow the mayor to oversee the schools and a plan that would return power to a traditional school board.

But the biggest news -- and questions -- involved the train station restoration.

Although the deal has been in the works since last year, it has been in limbo for months. And Tuesday night was the first time the mayor said the city will buy the depot, which overshadows redevelopment in Corktown and Mexican Village.

The deal could cost the city tens of millions of dollars and pose significant challenges as planners try to update the building from gutted eyesore to hi-tech police headquarters.

Contact M.L. ELRICK at 313-223-3327 or [email protected] Staff writer John Gallagher contributed to this report.

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