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Auditor says depot rehab plan is a 'pipe dream'

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Auditor says depot rehab plan is a 'pipe dream'

March 31, 2004

BY MARISOL BELLO

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

In a sharp memorandum sent to the Detroit City Council and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Auditor General Joseph Harris called the mayor's plan to renovate the abandoned Michigan Central Depot and turn it into the new headquarters for the Police Department a "fiscal pipe dream."

The four-page letter questions the wisdom of retrofitting the 91-year-old building to meet the Police Department's needs, the fiscal impact on the central business district of moving the current headquarters out of the area and whether the city will be able to rehab the building without raising taxes as the mayor has promised.

City Council members, who will eventually vote on any proposal to buy the depot, say the document summarizes crucial issues.

"I think it could be a blueprint for our examination of whatever comes in from the administration," said Council President Maryann Mahaffey. "The council has asked some of those same questions at the table."

Earlier this month, Kilpatrick announced with great fanfare that the city will spend between $100 million and $130 million to buy the depot and turn it into a state-of-the-art police facility. Administration officials will not say how much of that represents the cost of buying the building from the owner, Grosse Pointe businessman Manuel (Matty) Moroun.

They say a final deal won't be signed until environmental, structural and other site studies are completed. None of those has gotten under way yet.

City officials dismissed Harris' memo on Tuesday.

"It's far-reaching speculation outside of his expertise," said the mayor's spokesman, Howard Hughey. "He's not a developer. He's an accountant. . . . If this memo were about the financing of the deal, then we should pay attention to it."

The auditor general is appointed by the City Council to serve as an independent auditor of the city's activities. His job is to look at how the city operates and spends public dollars.

Hughey said that even though the memo is addressed to the mayor, neither his office nor any department head received a copy.

Harris' document, however, piqued the interest of some other council members who have said they are frustrated by an administration that does not share sufficient information with them about issues on which they will need to make decisions.

For example, Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel said after the mayor's announcement about the depot she asked for information regarding all the options the city considered for a police headquarters before deciding on the depot.

She said the council is still waiting.

The city's chief development officer, Walter Watkins, said the council has received all of the information the city has available.

"There is nothing we're asking City Council to approve," he said. "We told them we have a deal in principle, which is equivalent to a handshake. Nothing has been signed."

Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co. and a spokesman for Moroun, the depot's owner, would not comment on the report Tuesday.

Contact MARISOL BELLO at 313-222-6678 or [email protected] Staff writer John Gallagher contributed to this report.

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