BY MELANIE YOUNG
The city of Trenton is trying to take a measured approach with its opportunity to purchase a key piece of waterfront property that has been an eyesore for decades.
Known for years as McLouth Steel, the property sits on over 180 acres of land on West Jefferson Avenue between King and Sibley roads. The crumbling building that sits on the property takes up close to 1 million square feet.
The Wayne County Treasurer’s office took control of the property on March 31 after the most recent owners, Detroit Steel Co., registered to Michael Wilkinson, failed to regularly pay taxes on the property since 2006. The process of purchasing the property has been moving swiftly since then.
The State of Michigan has the first option to purchase the property and its deadline was May 13. According to Bruce Babiarz, spokesperson for Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree, the state declined to purchase the property.
The city of Trenton has the next right of refusal to purchase the property, and they have until July 5 to make their decision. The price the city would pay would be approximately $2.5 million, which is the amount of back taxes owed to Wayne County and to the State of Michigan.
Should the city decline its option to purchase the property, Wayne County would have the option to purchase it. If the County refuses, the property would go up for auction in September.
“We do not want it to go to auction. We would have no control over the potential redevelopment,” said City Administrator Jim Wagner. He said city leaders are concerned about several issues, including the environmental impact, appearance of the property, taxes and what will become of the land. Wagner has been meeting with representatives of the state, county and federal government nonstop since the county foreclosed on the property.
“This is the most complex issue in southeastern Michigan,” said Wagner.
Wagner gives lots of credit to Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree for moving the process forward, and stressed how hard the state, federal and county governments are working together. That was echoed by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-12th District).
“The federal, state and local governments are working together as partners every step of the way,” Dingell said. “The state wants to help the city of Trenton to be able to get the resources they need to buy the land and manage it for public development. This property has been an eyesore for too long, both economically and for local quality of life.”
Bruce Babiarz said that the county treasurer would like to see the property return to the tax rolls. “The treasurer would like to see it become a tax paying property again.”
Dingell also indicated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the state Department of Environmental Quality will be working closely with the city on the next steps dealing with the condition of the land on the property.
Now that the city has received word from the State of Michigan that the city is eligible to purchase the property, Wagner said he will prepare different plans to present to the City Council for them to consider.
“The city is exploring all options,” Wagner said. “This is the biggest decision made by the mayor and City Council in 15 years.”