Magic Johnson group approved for Mich. state fairgrounds deal

By Corey Williams

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- The former site of the Michigan state fairgrounds will be sold to an investment group that includes Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who was a basketball star for Michigan State and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Michigan's Land Bank Fast Track Authority on Wednesday approved the purchase agreement for the 157 acres along the city's northern border with Oakland County. The land will be transferred to Magic Plus, LLC, in partnership with developer REDICO for $4.6 million.

REDICO President and CEO Dale Watchowski called the project "conceptual."

Preliminary plans call for an investment of up to $160 million in shops, restaurants, multi-family housing, single-family housing, senior living facilities, a medical office, entertainment venues, a transportation hub and open green spaces. It is expected to include more than 1 million square feet of new construction over multiple phases.

The deal calls for a 90-day inspection period of the site and refinement of proposal plans. A formal closing is expected on or before Jan. 15, 2015, according to REDICO news release.

"This important real estate development project has been in the works for more than a year and it will take more time to obtain input from the community and alliance partners to develop this historic site into its highest and best use for the residents of Detroit," Watchowski said.

The development also could include a multi-screen movie theater, according to Joel Ferguson, a Michigan State University trustee and managing partner of Magic Plus LLC.

"We are proud to be part of the rising hopes and great promise that is the gateway to Detroit," said Ferguson.

Johnson, a member of the professional basketball Hall of Fame, led Michigan State to the 1979 national championship before steering the Lakers to five NBA championships. He is chairman and chief executive of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Magic Johnson Enterprises.

The Michigan State Fair was held in Detroit location from 1905 through 2009. Attendance peaked in the mid-1960s at more than one million people before declining dramatically over the next four decades; the fair attracted only 217,000 visitors in 2009. Then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm approved cutting state funding to the event.

Mayor Dave Bing called the plan "encouraging."

"The proposed development by Magic Johnson and his team will improve the quality of life for our citizens by providing more shopping, entertainment and housing options," Bing said. "Additionally, the project will further revitalize the Eight Mile and Woodward corridor as we continue our efforts to transform Detroit."

The fairgrounds project is the latest example of renewed interest in parts of Detroit as hot spots for new retail development.

In July, Grand Rapids-based Meijer Inc. opened a $20 million grocery supercenter adjacent to the old fairgrounds in the $72 million Gateway Marketplace. REDICO also is the developer for that project.

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods opened its first store in June in Midtown, which is anchored by Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center, the Detroit Institute of Arts and Orchestra Hall.

Published: Fri, Oct 4, 2013