Detroit Looks to Sell State Fairgrounds to Ross Perot Jr., Deal Could Bring Amazon Facility to City

The city of Detroit plans to sell 142 acres at the site of the former Michigan State Fairgrounds near the southeast corner of Woodward and Eight Mile Road in Detroit.
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rendering of transit center at Michigan State Fairgrounds
Detroit plans to sell the Michigan State Fairgrounds to Hillwood Investment Properties, which will also develop a new transit center. // Rendering courtesy of the city of Detroit

The city of Detroit plans to sell 142 acres at the site of the former Michigan State Fairgrounds near the southeast corner of Woodward and Eight Mile Road in Detroit.

The proposed deal would bring a 3.8 million square foot facility with more than 1,200 new full-time jobs. The development is slated for completion in 2022.

Texas-based Hillwood Investment Properties and local partner the Sterling Group in Detroit plan to make the purchase. The project will be privately financed without the use of tax breaks or other financial incentives.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, the development team will pay $9 million for the land based on a recent appraisal and pay $7 million for a new Detroit Department of Transportation transit center.

Hillwood is in negotiations with Amazon to potentially be the first anchor tenant and to occupy about half of the site, which has been largely vacant and unused since the State Fair left in 2009. The developer also plans to redevelop the remaining 70 acres with auto parts suppliers or other companies.

“What Detroit needs more than anything right now is jobs, and we are deeply appreciative that Hillwood and the Sterling Group have made our city its choice to purchase the former Michigan State Fairgrounds with the potential to bring more than 1,200 good paying jobs,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “The developers and the new tenant will be working closely with our team at Detroit at Work, which will be helping to provide outstanding candidates who are residents of the city.”

The developer also will pay for any demolition and environmental remediation to prepare the land for redevelopment. The proposed project remains in negotiations until all deal terms are final and binding agreements have been approved by all parties.

A purchase agreement is planned to be presented to the city council for consideration in September.

“This agreement for the proposed sale of the State Fair Grounds is a tremendous opportunity, not only for District 2 and the city of Detroit, but for the unification of southeast Michigan,” says Roy McCalister, a councilman whose district includes the Fairgrounds property. “The potential for 1,200 Amazon jobs at this new facility represents an opportunity to diversify our economy while employing residents of our city. To that end, I hope and expect that this new facility will become a major employer, as well as a dynamic training ground for Detroit workers for years to come.”

Currently, 30,000 riders per week from nine separate bus routes transfer to the Detroit Department of Transportation or SMART buses on Woodward near 8 Mile, right outside of the Fairgrounds. They currently wait on the street or in a series of outdoor bus shelters. As part of the agreement, the developer will construct a transit center with an indoor waiting area for customers that includes heat and air conditioning, a bus operator break room, bathrooms, and free WiFi.

The new transit center will provide indoor space similar to the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit and will service passengers along six of the department’s most heavily traveled routes as well as three SMART routes.

The transit center will also include safe, convenient pedestrian connections to the Meijer/Gateway Plaza, the new development at the State Fairgrounds, Woodward Avenue, and State Fair Avenue.

“This new transit center will be a dramatic improvement,” says Glenn Tolbert, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26. “The current transit center on Woodward is very difficult for drivers to navigate and provides no protection from the elements for our riders. Building this new center will be more convenient for our drivers and safer for our riders.”

If the city council approves the plan by mid-September, construction could begin by the end of October, Duggan says. The facility and transit center are expected to begin operations in mid-2022.

The development team will be led by Hillwood, which has built Amazon fulfillment sites across the country. Hillwood has partnered with the Sterling Group, which managed other major projects, including the renovation of the historic Guardian Building in downtown Detroit.

“Hillwood is honored to be working with the mayor and city of Detroit on bringing jobs, investment, and redevelopment to the former State Fairgrounds site,” says Ross Perot Jr., chairman of Hillwood and the Perot Group.  “We see this as an opportunity to team up with Sterling Group again to showcase our company’s ability to transform the site into a new hub for e-commerce innovation and excellence.”

More information on the agreement is available here.

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