By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
The man who shipped an abandoned Detroit house to Europe as part of an art exhibit reimbursed taxpayers $9,500 today after the city ordered an emergency demolition of the blighted remains that were left behind for nearly five months.
An apologetic Ryan Mendoza wasted no time paying the city after he appears to have been swindled by an unscrupulous Detroit businessman, whom Mendoza paid $13,500 to demolish the rest of the house a day after the facade was dismantled in October.
The businessman, Harley K. Brown, never razed the house or protected neighbors from environmental contamination, claiming he was sick for the past five months. Motor City Muckraker discovered that Brown is an unlicensed contractor with a past of shady business ventures – a surprise to Mendoza, who said he wanted to support a small, Detroit-based business.
Mendoza, a Pennsylvania native who has lived in Europe for 20 years, said he hopes to ship three more abandoned houses overseas – at his expense – and sell them, donating the proceeds to demolish blighted Detroit houses in neighborhoods with the most need.
“When people are free of this blight, their own property values go up,” Mendoza said. “If we can raise more money and help demolish houses, that would be great. It’s a win-win situation.”
But Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration, which has mischaracterized Mendoza’s project as a profit-driven venture, wouldn’t say whether the city supports sending more vacant houses to Europe, even if it means raising money for demolitions.
Mendoza said he can’t understand why the mayor’s administration isn’t on board.
“I want to get as much money as possible for Detroit,” Mendoza told me.
Since Duggan took office, his administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to demolish more than 8,000 houses and buildings.
Mendoza’s wife, Fabia Mendoza, created a short documentary, “Coming Home,” about the art house project. It premiers at the 2016 Detroit Free Press film festival at 2:30 p.m. April 2 at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“I’m happy this is done,” Mendoza said after paying for the emergency demolition. “I see this as a story with a happy ending.”
Mendoza said the idea was to memorialize a house and the memories it represents. It was never about “ruin porn,” as has been suggested in the media.
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.