By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
Taxpayers are funding a nonprofit that handles the sale of prime city property on Detroit’s behalf.
So naturally we wanted to know more about the Detroit Economic Development Growth Corporation (DEGC), which negotiated the controversial deal to subsidize the Red Wings arena with $250 million in public money.
Motor City Muckraker sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the DEGC on April 29 for records on the budget, employees’ salaries, the vendor list and the contract with a private PR firm.
But the DEGC denied the records, saying it does not have to comply with open records laws, despite receiving its funds from taxpayers.
“The DEGC is not ‘a public body’ … and therefore no response is required,” wrote Art Papapanos, the DEGC’s chief board administration officer.
The nonprofit entity wields strong influence over who receives prime property, from downtown to 8 Mile. Now that downtown property is becoming more valuable and attractive, the DEGC plays an increasingly important role in the redevelopment of the city.
Two former DEGC leaders who negotiated the controversial Red Wings contract are now working for the Ilitch family’s arena development company. They are former DEGC president and CEO George Jackson and one of his former lieutenants Brian Holdwick. Their job with the DEGC was to ensure taxpayers got the best deal under the agreement.
Three years ago this week, Jackson told a Grosse Pointe crowd: “Bring on more gentrification!”
The DEGC works with at least seven economic development groups whose leadership is appointed by the mayor. Its meeting agendas are not posted online, making it difficult for residents and the media to know what’s happening with key real estate transactions.
When the city of Detroit refused to turn over hydrant records last year, we sued and won access to the documents.
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.