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Detroit puts out call for Uniroyal project

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Detroit puts out call for Uniroyal project

Site of tire factory presents challenges

March 24, 2004

BY JOHN GALLAGHER

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Nearly 20 years after Detroit's Uniroyal tire factory fell to wrecking balls, the city hopes to build again on the vacant riverfront site near Belle Isle.

This week the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. is calling for developers to submit their credentials for dealing with the challenging 43-acre site. Eventually, city officials say, they hope to see retail and residential units rise there along Jefferson Avenue.

With 2,000 feet of Detroit River frontage and spectacular views of downtown and Windsor, the Uniroyal site is among the biggest undeveloped parcels on a major urban waterway. But it's also among the most difficult to build upon.

A site of industrial production for a century until May 1982, the parcel contains several buried basements filled with water and demolition debris.

Part of the site is contaminated; half the site consists of fill that extended to the river's edge. Both a railroad and a sewer right-of-way run through it. And potentially the most valuable section, the strip along the river itself, must be reserved for public access and recreation.

"This is by no stretch just a greenfield piece of property," George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., said Tuesday. "We need somebody who's really heavy-duty into this kind of stuff."

Although brownfield tax credits and other assistance might be available for a cleanup, the city says developers would have to arrange private financing to pay for any project.

Responses to this week's requests for qualifications are due back to DEGC by April 15. The city will select finalists in early May. A development team could be selected by summer.

Located adjacent to the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle, the Uniroyal site has long excited the interest of city officials and developers. New York developer Donald Trump flew over the site in a helicopter in 1986, and development circles buzzed for many months about Trump's interest, which came to nothing.

In 1988, Mayor Coleman Young called for proposals to redevelop the site, but those, too, never led to anything being built.

Since then, a few anglers fish off the riverbank in good weather, and the city parks cars there during major events on Belle Isle.

But in the last year, as plans moved ahead for redevelopment of the eastern riverfront to include public access and recreational uses, the Uniroyal site has re-emerged in importance.

"It's important because it's on one of the most beautiful rivers within a major city in the United States," Jackson said. "That within itself makes it a very attractive site. It's also significant because it's been vacant for so long, and it's the gateway to Belle Isle."

Copies of the city's request for qualifications are to be available on the DEGC's Web site at www.degc.org.

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER at 313-222-5173 or [email protected]

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