A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials


Detroit Free Press. Dec. 2.

Packard Plant in Detroit is problem with potential

Detroit has an abundance of eyesores, a glut of empty buildings and plenty of dangerous places. But nowhere do all those problems come together in a bigger, badder way than at the Packard Plant, 35 acres of industrial ruins on the near east side, a massive magnet for all kinds of trouble and a convenient visual for anyone who wants to display the down side of the city. It's got to go.

Like so many things in Detroit, this is easier said than done. It should have been done years ago, but a screwup by city lawyers halted demolition. It will take money the city doesn't have and the kind of concerted effort that doesn't often happen around here.

But therein is the opportunity.

Just as the plant has become a symbol of Detroit's decline, so can its removal become a symbol of public officials willing to work together to erase a public nuisance. City, county, state and federal leaders who jostle to get in the photos at a ribbon cutting should be just as eager to stand together when the wrecking ball finally swings to begin the end for this old hulk.

And when that happens, it will create another opportunity.

It's hard to see with all those falling-down buildings in the way, but the Packard Plant occupies a pretty good location in Detroit, with both freeway and rail access. It has enormous potential as a warehouse-logistics complex, a short-term holding space for parts needed for just-in-time manufacturing and for other goods coming into Detroit or going out of Michigan. The need for such a facility will grow exponentially with construction of a second bridge over the Detroit River, making the city the major funnel point for overseas products coming into the U.S. by way of Canadian ports.

There's money to be made in building and operating such a complex — and jobs to be gained.

Problem is, potential developers can't see it. Why? Because there's a huge asbestos-laden mess in the way.

It's a simple fact that economic visionaries like an open view — vacant land. The Packard site will never be attractive as long as the old plant is there. Despite its great location, it will never be an asset to Detroit until it's cleared; it will be only a liability.

And that liability could grow in a dangerous and costly way: The site is unsecured; the listed owner apparently lacks the means to pay nearly $750,000 in overdue taxes, much less install fencing, and the Detroit Fire Department is no longer venturing inside the Packard to put out the frequent blazes there. Bad things have been happening, and major disasters are possible with the situation as is. The site continues to attract naive urban explorers, party people and graffiti artists evidently unaware of the predators lurking on the premises and the frequent fires.

The city doesn't need the grief, the cost or the questions that would follow a major incident at the Packard or a fire that escapes into the surrounding neighborhood.

The city does, however, need a shovel-ready site on the near east side that could be a catalyst for the redevelopment of not only the Packard site but also an entire area that is ideal for commercial and light-industrial use.

Wayne County, which is expanding its downtown Detroit port facilities, should have an interest in the redevelopment of its largest city and in a ground-based logistics and shipping complex to complement the Aerotropolis taking shape around Metro Airport.

The state has an interest in maximizing the potential border traffic in Detroit to further justify the new bridge.

And the federal government — under any administration — ought to have an interest in lending Detroit a very visible hand to not only eradicate a clear and present danger but create a fertile field for private-sector growth in a major city that desperately needs it.

The win-win-win-win potential here is enormous. And the biggest winner would be the long-suffering people of Detroit, who have put up with this dirty, dangerous situation for decades.

Karla Henderson, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's very capable group executive for the city's buildings and planning departments, clearly sees the problems and the promise in the Packard site and is setting some wheels in motion to tackle it over the next year or so. But she can't do it alone, and a much more aggressive effort is warranted.

Chief Deputy Wayne County Treasurer David Szymanski is doing his part, instigating foreclosure proceedings over nonpayment of taxes. That's the start of ousting the negligent private ownership of the site and giving public officials an opportunity to resolve its future. But it's a yearlong process just to get to a point where money can be sought for demolition — assuming no private investors step up to acquire the property — and the source of such funds, probably $20 million or more, isn't readily apparent.

The state started the takedown job a decade ago but got burned by a legal error by the city and moved the money to another job. Now, neither the state nor the federal government see the site as the kind of imminent environmental hazard that qualifies for cleanup money, despite all the asbestos within the structures. Nothing, after all, is leaking into water supplies, and there aren't many people living in the immediate vicinity.

So we have a situation that everybody would agree is bad, dangerous, an obstacle to progress, a terrible symbol for the city — and a site that, once shorn of its structures, has considerable potential for redevelopment.

But nobody can figure out how to bridge the gap from problem to solution?

Come on, people. There's an overriding public interest here. The Packard Plant may not fit any inside-the-box definitions of an environmental emergency, but it's an ongoing disaster with worse waiting to happen. Its very existence is a crime of negligence, an affront to the community, a sorry monument to failure.

The solution starts with city, county, state and federal officials deciding that this is a public-interest priority. And that's an easy call. A simple drive-by of the property makes a pretty solid case.

Next comes a meeting, with Bing, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Gov. Rick Snyder, both of Michigan's U.S. senators and the city's two congressmen represented, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who is no stranger to Detroit or urban redevelopment efforts. Donovan oversaw massive redevelopment in New York as a city official and, with HUD, $800 billion in federal spending under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He knows how to get outside the box.

Ideally, the city and county would agree to expedite legal efforts to take control of the property; the state would commit to some level of matching grant, plus a marketing effort for the property, and the feds would find the bulk of the money to cover demolition and site clearance.

Yes, all of that is easier said than done. There may have to be some rules bent, earmarks pursued or definitions stretched.

But this is also a problem than can be solved. It's also the right and necessary thing to do. And it starts with deciding that ridding Detroit of the ugly, dangerous Packard Plant is a public-interest priority. It starts with commitment. It requires cooperation. And for the city, county, state and nation, it will yield enormous rewards.


The Daily Telegram (Adrian). Dec. 2

Fresh food plan 1 way to lift 'food desert' label

It sounds odd to hear that parts of Adrian, Blissfield and Tecumseh are considered "food deserts." Surrounded by some of Michigan's most productive farmland, the communities' designation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture seems strange.

It takes more to put fresh food on the table than being agricultural, though, as a story about a grant program involving Lenawee County agencies shows. Parts of Adrian, Tecumseh and the Blissfield area were cited for reduced food access, along with 281 other areas in the state.

If nothing else, the "food desert" designations should change how people think about local nutrition and health. Older Americans can remember family gardens as routine. Trends since then have reduced most people's share of income spent for food, but they also have cut our fresh food and increased heavily processed items.

The road toward eating healthier foods has detours. Most locally grown commodities (corn, soybeans, etc.) are not intended for area dinner tables. Also, the loss of downtown grocers — The Pharm in Adrian as an example — makes shopping harder for many people. Having a healthy food retail outlet within one mile in urban settings (those with at least 2,500 residents) is part of food access. Other factors include area poverty rates, housing units without a vehicle and the percentage of young children or older adults.

Bringing fresh foods to people who would otherwise avoid carrying bags of produce home on foot or a bus is one goal of the Lenawee project. A $66,000 grant was awarded to ProMedica through the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program to buy and operate a "veggie mobile" for two years. Seven local produce providers are working with the Lenawee Health Network to provide the produce, and will be donating it for the first few months to get the program rolling. Another $5,000 grant will promote the Adrian Farmers Market.

There is potential gain for everyone. Many consumers who might never consider vegetables such as fresh squash will have better access. Farmers will expand their markets and, we hope, Lenawee County may eventually benefit from lower obesity rates and better overall health.

Moving certain county areas from desert to oasis, though, will be a long process. It can only happen if people change behavior toward buying, preparing and eating fresh food and passing along those habits to children.

Even that would only be one item toward what's needed to improve county health. Increasing exercise, improving primary medical care and reducing poverty, smoking and substance abuse also are factors.

Talking about the challenge is the first step. ProMedica and the Lenawee Health Network deserve credit for helping us recognize that all of us have a role in moving produce from those farms to our plates.


The Muskegon Chronicle, Nov. 30

Jail proposal needs action now, not another delay

It's time for Muskegon County to take action on the jail.

For more than a decade, various county boards have debated expanding or renovating the jail while conditions have worsened and sentencing and treatment options slowly have been diminished by overcrowding. Although many MLive and Muskegon Chronicle readers and citizens attending meetings about the jail believe releasing those who have low-level drug offenses or property crimes would correct the overcrowding issue, that's not supported by the facts.

A series, "The jail dilemma," investigated by MLive and Muskegon Chronicle reporter Eric Gaertner earlier this year, found the jail severely overcrowded with inmates being released early every day. During his research, Gaertner sent a Freedom of Information request to the Muskegon County Sheriff's Office for a list of inmates and their crimes on three random dates. What he learned is the people lodged in the jail are there for serious crimes, or, they have flouted the system for so long by failing to appear in court or to finish court ordered programs or probation that they can no longer be ignored.

Consultants hired by Muskegon County to study the jail confirmed what Gaertner found. Major and violent crimes are increasing in this county, changing the jail population. Seventy-six percent of the inmates are felons. In addition, 28 percent of the inmates are women, which is well above the national average and creates additional issues.

Delaying a decision on the jail will not change these facts.

On Dec. 6, the county jail and juvenile center committee will review financing options for renovating and expanding the county jail and replacing the juvenile facility. After reviewing 88 different options, consultants recommended renovating and expanding the current jail on county-owned property in and around the Hall of Justice, 990 Terrace St. in Muskegon. They also recommended moving the Juvenile Transition Center to a renovated and expanded Craig School building at the corner of Southern Avenue and Park Street.

Many MLive and Chronicle readers have indicated they want the county board to put the decision on the jail to a vote in the form of a millage request to fund the jail renovations. They believe county residents will reject the proposal. Some of these people are the same ones who think we should lock up and throw away the key for nearly every arrested individual.

They can't have it both ways. Either the county renovates and expands the jail so that judges can put some muscle behind alternative programs — you will end up in jail if you don't comply with these rules — or we complain about the growing amount of crime in our communities.

The jail and juvenile justice center can be a place where the community reclaims individuals who have made serious mistakes. There are crimes that don't deserve incarceration. But the decision about how these individuals are treated shouldn't be forced by a lack of space in the jail and a juvenile center designed for punishment instead of treatment and rehabilitation.

Technology has changed how jails operate. Using new technology, the county and sheriff's office might be able to cut costs to help fund the new construction as well as move the jail into the 21st century.

Of course, county officials should closely scrutinize the consultant's proposal. Is this the best way to expand and renovate these facilities? Or, is this recommendation appealing because we've always done it this way? They need to listen to neighbors' concerns about the new juvenile facility and protect their property values.

But, the county board also needs to take action. The current jail is outdated and unsafe — for inmates, jail staff, visitors and anyone else who enters the building. Inmates often are released before they finish treatment programs started while in jail or their sentences are complete. Many flout the system because they know they won't be sent to jail even if they do ignore guidelines.

Don't let this end up on the shelf.


Lansing State Journal. Nov. 26.

Big Ten's wealth should be shared

The Big Ten's expansion into East Coast television markets by adding two additional universities could be a potential windfall for all 14 conference-member athletic departments.

Michigan State University should think about using revenue from the Big Ten payout to benefit the university's academic efforts.

While the conference's athletic directors point out that such a strong revenue stream will help keep tickets more affordable for fans and alumni, it's time for the MSU Board of Trustees to take a bolder look at that revenue.

It is not an unprecedented practice.

— In September, the Board of Supervisors at Louisiana State University voted to "transfer" $36 million from the athletic department to the university, with payments of $7.2 million per year for five years to be spent for academics, research or public service programs.

— At Ohio State University, the athletic department has been making annual $1 million payments to support the university library.

— And, as the Big Ten expansion was announced, Maryland President Wallace Loh pledged that some money from Maryland's Big Ten payments would "support our University-wide educational missions and help make college more affordable for our students."

The marriage of major research universities and successful college sports programs creates complex relationships. Athletics cannot replace the millions in revenue lost as state lawmakers have cut public universities to the bone. But athletic programs can and should contribute toward academic success.

MSU's Board of Trustees should begin a serious look at options for supporting academic scholarships or other academic efforts through revenue sharing with athletics.

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