Bridge Co. turns neighborhood in Windsor into ‘slums’

Ambassador bridgeThe Ambassador Bridge Co. began buying dozens of houses in historic Old Sandwich Town on Windsor’s west side in 1995 and hasn’t let up since.

The result: Bridge owner and billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun has allowed more than 100 boarded-up homes to languish in a neighborhood with some of the richest history and oldest homes in Ontario. It was established in 1797 and became the spot of many historic events, including the beginning of War of 1812.

The company’s plan to demolish 44 homes in Old Sandwich Town took a big leap forward this week after a city commission preliminarily approved the demo.

But Windsor officials are outraged, saying the bridge company intentionally let the houses rot so it can build a massive truck plaza in a neighborhood trying to retain its character and history.

The bridge company maintains it needs to demolish the houses to get better access to the bridge for repairs.

The city filed a lawsuit against the company to stop the demolition, alleging the bridge company turned a “lovely residential area” into “slums” that are dragging down property values of nearby homeowners.

Superior Court Justice Richard Gates, who heard a lawsuit by homeowners, said the home purchases and “dereliction of more than 100 homes” was intentional.

Neither Moroun nor the bridge company could be reached for comment.

Moroun’s heavy-handed tactics raise questions about why he, his relatives and his company are throwing so much money toward the mayoral campaign of Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who has supported Moroun’s plan to build another bridge – a move that would further deteriorate the historic neighborhood.

Benny NapoleonOn the campaign trail, Napoleon said one of his biggest priorities is preserving neighborhoods in Detroit.

Napoleon’s campaign collected more than $13,000 from Moroun and his family. Central Transport, which is owned by Moroun, donated $50,000 to Detroit Forward, the Political Action Committee supporting Napoleon.

Questions also are being raised about whether Moroun or his company also donated to the controversial Michigan Community Education Fund, created by Detroit Forward operator Christopher Jackson. The state is investigating financial irregularities in the fund, which has raised $75,000 from unnamed donors.

Napoleon has been outspoken about his support for Moroun building a new bridge to Canada and said he opposes a competing plan by the state.

Napoleon’s campaign said the candidate’s position on the bridge “is unrelated” to donations from Moroun and his company.

“Donors, including Mr. Moroun, are contributing to Benny Napoleon for Mayor because they believe that this candidate has many qualities that are necessary,” campaign spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh told me. “He understands the issues throughout this city. He knows how to reduce crime. He has shown integrity in every position. He has successfully managed city budgets. And he has a plan to make this city safe and transform its neighborhoods.”

Napoleon speaks about why he support Moroun’s bridge plan at the 10:30 mark:

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.