• The Detroit 300 Committee & the City’s Celebration

    by  • April 11, 2001 • Detroit, Politics

    The Detroit 300 Committee is the official committee formed by Mayor Dennis Archer to oversee the cities 300 birthday celebration, the tricentennial. In 1701 Cadillac landed on the shores of the Detroit River which began what has now become Detroit. Detroit was once controlled by the French, the British, the native Americans and now the mixture of those who call this city home of which over 85% are black or African American.

    The mission of the Detroit 300 Committee organization is, “to celebrate the spirit of the metropolitan Detroit and Windsor communities during the tricentennial year of 2001 and recognize the historic achievements of this region’s people as the foundation for its future.” (As displayed on the Detroit 300 Committee Web Site.) This does not say anything about Campus Martius or the other projects that this committee is reported to be undertaking and planning to finance.

    The committee is constructing a promenade on the riverfront adjacent to Hart Plaza to beautify the walkway. They are selling pavers, bricks, wall inscriptions, etc. to help finance this project. In addition this committee has organized and is in charge of other events connected to the 300 birthday year long celebration. In addition to the above, Detroit 300 is also financing and planning part of the Campus Martius project.

    The Campus Martius project is an undertaking from Mayor Dennis Archer to transform the current area where Woodward, Michigan Avenue and Monroe intersect. Several buildings are planned for current city blocks in the area and at the center of this intersection the Campus Martius will include an elaborate park which was designed over 100 years ago by the city planners who laid out the then city street structure and overall traffic plans.

    Not much has been made of the reports of this non-profit organization taking part in the making of this new park and development. But one article that appeared in the Detroit News on Tuesday, February 6, 2001 included some of the plans for this committee’s involvement in this planned development. As quoted in that article, said Maud Lyon, executive director of Detroit 300, who stated, “Campus Martius Park will be an energetic public space that will be lush, green and active”. There seems to be a more than passing interest in the Campus Martius development. In fact Edsel B. Ford II, chairman of the Detroit 300 Commission will coordinate a gift of 300 benches from the Henry Ford II Fund. The commission plans to contract with 30 artists to design the benches and place them around the Campus Martius. They currently are planning to have

    The question remains what is the role of this committee in this cities urban development plan.

    them completed by year’s end. In addition the city of Detroit and the Detroit 300 are looking for artists to design various monuments to place in and around the park. The committee has many people involved from many different areas in this city, both in the public and private sectors. But notification of these plans as well as how the average person can contribute or participate in their own cities celebration has not been well communicated to the general public. The city has done more to make people aware of the Mayors Clean up Detroit political campaign than they have to encourage people to contribute to their cities 300 birthday. And you have to wonder why there are no people on the board who are average citizens who do not work at a local news publications or chair a multi-billion dollar company or head the cities Cultural Affairs department. How many school teachers or sanitation workers or union representatives were invited to participate with this board? How many community activists are there who have intimate knowledge of the plans this board is considering? These questions always arise when a politician makes appointments with public money. And Dennis Archer has been known to make choices based on his political beliefs and past relationships.

    In addition to the plans for enhancing the Campus Martius and the riverfront Promenade this committee also plans to fund the park and its maintenance as well as the street improvements around the planned park. In that same article it states that the Detroit 300 will create or setup a Legacy Fund which has raised 15 million dollars to date and will be used to fund public improvements and create a conservatory endowment to maintain the park. It will also be used to pay for the new promenade along the riverfront where they will be laying the custom pavers or bricks which donors can purchase and have an inscription made for all to see. A monument to the Underground Railroad is planned for Hart Plaza and they wish to plant hundreds of trees throughout the city of Detroit. This is far more than just planning for a birthday celebration and is encroaching on conducting public policy or at least engineering public policy. Regardless of the interest the committee might have in contributing to this city, Detroit has a budget and people who do the same work they plan on performing. Detroit has people who plant trees. Detroit has a department that makes the improvements to the cities streets. Detroit has departments to carry out every proposed service the Detroit 300 Committee has not so publicly announced they plan to implement. Why is this committee, which is carrying out a worthwhile public service by coordinating the celebration, also stepping over the city council’s jurisdiction? The committee will not need council approval for some of their plans. And possibly they will need no council oversight if the mayor transfers the Campus Martius park to this group to oversee just as the Founders Society was awarded the management of the DIA. The DIA required a council vote because it was an existing city department or institution. The Campus Martius is a new development and would not require council approval if the mayor has already designated that part of the development to be run by the non-profit organization. In fact in the mayors rush to get the council to improve the Compuware Campus Martius deal the council had to approve other aspects of the development area in order to have everything eventually work together. The question remains what is the role of this committee in this cities urban development plan.

    Last November 2000 Detroiters voted on a ballot proposal designated proposal A. This proposal would have created a Culture Council which would have had powers equal to that or greater in some instances to the city council and the Wayne and Oakland County Commissions. The Mayor and the other backers, who included primarily some Oakland County Commissioners and private citizens, was identified as an attempt to implement a regional government superceding the city and counties of Oakland and Wayne. This would have given this council powers far beyond their mandate to fund seventeen cultural institutions. In fact this council would have been able to perform many of the duties that the Detroit 300 Committee is now seemingly planning to do. Those people voting on the measure but living outside of the city of Detroit defeated the proposal.

    Is the Detroit 300 Committee an attempt by the mayor to salvage some part of the failed ballot proposal? It would allow an open door for a private non-elected board to have access or control over government property. Thus far Detroit 300 has no oversight or control over tax dollars but the current city administration seems oblivious to the needs of this city to lower its tax burdens on its residents and therefore maximize all of its tax dollars for its residents.

    If the Detroit 300 Committee cannot raise the required funds to undertake the above mentioned plans and as yet unknown projects they plan to accomplish, will the Campus Martius come to fruition? Will many of the publicly proposed city enhancements or improvements be implemented? The project seems to be in reality an unfunded dream that is timed to coincide with the next city government elections. Will there be a shovel in the ground when voters make it to the polls in September and November or will the fence that has enclosed Kennedy Square still stand erected while the facility within goes unused.

    About

    Henry Teutsch is a member of Hood Research. An interest in writing, with a love for programming databases and web sites, allows Henry to do both on The Thinkers Report.

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