Category Archives: News

Troy, Grand Sakwa settle suit on transit center property cost

From The Troy Sentinel:

Photo by Larry Sobczak
Photo by Larry Sobczak

While the city and Grand Sakwa Properties have settled on the cost of the property that the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Center sits on, who will reimburse the city for the additional cost is not yet clear.

While the city paid Grand/Sakwa $3.1 million Sept. 3 and the lawsuit was dismissed, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman must sign the final order dismissing the case, which had not been filed at press time.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg-Bluhm explained that the matter was decided by case evaluation, a procedure in which three attorneys put a value on a case, which both parties accepted.

Bowman signed an order Aug. 15, 2014, giving the city the title to the land and requiring the city to pay developer Grand Sakwa Properties $1.07 million, based on a land appraisal.

Grand Sakwa had donated 2.7 acres of the total 77-acre mixed-use commercial and residential property at Maple and Coolidge to the city of Troy on the condition that Troy would develop the land for use as a transportation center. The consent agreement — dated June 2, 2000 — required that the city fund the center within 10 years of the date of judgment, which the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled never happened.

Last summer, Alan Greene, attorney for Grand Sakwa, said Grand Sakwa did not believe $1.07 million to be a proper number.

The transit center grand opening was Oct. 15, 2014.

The case evaluation award that the city must pay was set at $4.15 million, which includes all costs, including Grand Sakwa’s attorney fees and the land value. The city paid the $1.07 million to Grand Sakwa last summer to gain title of the land.

Grigg-Bluhm said that based on a trial court decision on Michigan condemnation law, the city and Grand Sakwa were required to value the property to include the transit center structure, rather than the vacant parcel.

Greene could not be reached for further comment before press time.

The 2,000-square-foot transit center building has a waiting area and public restrooms, an elevator, a 90-foot pedestrian bridge from the building to the tracks, a crash wall, platform enhancements, designated parking on the Troy side, and slips for taxis and buses, although the  Suburban Mobility for Regional Transportation bus schedule does not include a stop at the transit center at this point.

Under the terms of a Federal Rail Administration Grant, the FRA has the right to demand reimbursement of the $6.62 million cost of the transit center if it is not operated for at least 20 years. If the center was  to be abandoned, the city could be disqualified from any further federal transportation grants, Grigg-Bluhm said.

The city will work with the FRA, the Federal Transit Administration, the Michigan Department of Transportation and SMART for reimbursement of the settlement amount.

“The city does intend to seek all available federal funding,” Grigg-Bluhm said.

She noted that funding is available through the FTA and the FRA, and that the city needs to go through procedural steps to seek it.

The terms of a 20-year lease agreement with Amtrak stipulate that the city perform all necessary maintenance on the center and cover operating expenses, for which Amtrak will reimburse the city 100 percent.

“I’m very confident when all is said and done that Troy taxpayers will not have to pay for a federally funded project,” said Troy Mayor Dane Slater.

“We didn’t dip into the reserves,” Slater said of the $3.1 million payment. “We can use the transit center. It belongs to the city. It (the lawsuit) is over, which is very good. My goal is that Troy taxpayers will not pay for a federally funded project. I’m very optimistic.”


SEMCOG awarded $250,000 grant for Bus Rapid Transit project

From The Royal Oak Daily Tribune:

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will receive $250,000 in federal funding to support the development of a Bus Rapid Transit project along Woodward Avenue, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday.

SEMCOG is among 21 organizations nationwide that will receive a share of $19.5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration to support comprehensive planning projects that improve access to public transit.

The funds are made available through FTA’s Transit-Oriented Development Planning Pilot Program for communities that are developing new or improved mass transit systems, the agency reported.

SEMCOG and the transit authority are planning the Bus Rapid Transit for a 27-mile corridor along Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to Pontiac.

Specifically, the the local funding will go towards creating a plan for communities to guide development around transit facilities; formulating strategies for economic growth; assessing development opportunities in the corridor; and evaluating the use of mixed income housing and public private partnerships in relation to the project, the report said.

“Our nation’s transportation demands have exceeded our capacity, causing millions of Americans to lose precious time stuck on congested roads and transit systems,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “By investing in transit planned around housing, jobs and services, these communities are creating ladders of opportunity for their citizens and laying a strong foundation for economic development that our growing nation demands.”

A list of transit projects selected to receive federal funding can be found online at


MDOT to stop paying for idle railcars

From the Detroit Free Press:

The Michigan Department of Transportation, responding to criticism from lawmakers and taxpayers after the Free Press reported the state agency is paying more than $1 million a year to lease railcars it can’t even use, is finalizing an agreement to halt the payments on Sept. 30, according to the state’s top rail official.

Tim Hoeffner, director of MDOT’s Office of Rail, said details aren’t finalized, but this much is agreed between MDOT and the owner of the cars, Great Lakes Central Railroad: The state will stop the lease payments of $3,000 a day, but the railroad will still promise to make the railcars available to MDOT, should they be needed, for up to five years.

MDOT wants the double-decker passenger cars, formerly used by commuter train operator Metra around Chicago, for proposed commuter services between Detroit and Ann Arbor and between Howell and Ann Arbor. But neither service has been approved or funded, some of the tracks the trains would use are not ready and officials say start dates are likely about four years away.

Read more:

Michigan Central Station owner floats idea of moving his business operations to the abandoned building in Detroit

From the Detroit Free Press:

Matthew Moroun, son of depot owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, floated the idea of moving some of the family's business operations into the Michigan Central Depot that it owns.(Photo: Mandi Wright)
Matthew Moroun, son of depot owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, floated the idea of moving some of the family’s business operations into the Michigan Central Depot that it owns.(Photo: Mandi Wright)

Over the years, dreamers have recommended all sorts of schemes for the old Michigan Central Station, from casinos to vertical agriculture. But it may turn out that the best new use may be closer to the station’s original purpose — a transportation hub.

Matthew Moroun, son of depot owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun and the new public face of the Moroun business empire, told WWJ radio recently that it was possible the family might consider moving some of its operations into the train station.

The Morouns’ Warren-based CenTra (a shortening of Central Transport) is a North American trucking network employing thousands of employees. The family also owns and operates the Ambassador Bridge as well as a growing logistics network that operates in part from facilities at the I-94 Industrial Park on Detroit’s east side.

The Morouns’ umbrella CenTra organization today operates from a converted school building in Warren where they employ hundreds of workers and operate a mission-control center for their far-flung trucking network.

Moving even a portion of that into the old train station would recreate a transportation hub there even if it doesn’t replace the train service that once made the depot famous as a city landmark.

A spokeswoman for Matthew Moroun said Tuesday she couldn’t add anything to the speculation and that Matthew Moroun was concentrating on “doing right by the depot” by continuing renovations of the station. So far, the family’s Detroit International Bridge Co. has spent an estimated $12 million to reinstall electricity at the station, to put in a new elevator, and to install new windows.

Estimates of the cost of a total renovation of the train station generally start at $100 million, but the figures could vary considerably depending on what use to make of the station.

Steve Morris, managing principal for the Axis Advisors real estate consulting firm in Farmington Hills and an adjunct professor of real estate finance at the University of Michigan, said the train station will benefit from the revitalization taking place in the greater downtown.

“The location of the old Train Station has become significantly more valuable over the past three years given its proximity to the dynamism of (downtown) Detroit,” he said Tuesday, also citing the residential growth in the nearby Corktown district and the forthcoming new development on the former Tiger Stadium site near the depot.

Reusing the tower portion of the depot as either housing or office space could make sense given current economics, he said. One possibility not mentioned yet: that Wayne County might move its offices from the Guardian Building, which it owns but is considering selling to an investor like Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert, and move into the train station instead.

If something like that happened, Morris said, the Moroun family potentially could “receive a boat load of tax benefits” for their renovation of the historic structure.

Moreover, with the current push to develop residential apartments throughout the greater downtown area, the train station potentially could find a new use as that, he added.

Any new use for the train station is likely at least a few years away, as it would take that long at a minimum to complete the cleanup of the station and to plan for and complete a transition to a new use.


More recent articles from the Detroit Free Press on the station:

New search starts for Algoma Central Railway passenger rail operator

From the Sault Star:

A Railmark engine.
A Railmark engine.

Now’s the time for companies that have expressed interest in running passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst to put their plans in writing for evaluation.

Last Friday, the Algoma Central Railway passenger service stakeholders working group issued a request for proposal for a new operator. The service stopped in mid-July because third-party operator Railmark Canada couldn’t meet a precondition and get a line of credit of $550,000.

The group invited 25 companies in North America to submit their proposals.

Tom Dodds, interim chair, says he was fielding calls and emails from interested business before the RFP was sent out.

The request was also sent to Railway Association of Canada, electronic tendering service MERC, politicians in the Sault and area and a short-line railway operator association in the United States.

“I think we’ve done a pretty broad broadcast,” said Dodds. “I’m pretty confident the industry will know that we’ve sent this out.”

Applications, due Sept. 9, will be evaluated for ideas to increase passenger volume and “the value of the passenger experience,” by offering travel options running a day or more, said Dodds.

“You’d have a combination of increased enthusiasm for using the passenger service because it’s a nicer level of service, as well as different types of experiences that you could undertake on the railway,” he told The Sault Star.

With Canadian National Railway Co., charging a track access fee that “is not insignificant,” the chosen firm “has to see this as way beyond just simply a passenger service,” said Dodds.

“The passenger service and the support provided by the federal government has to be a means to an end,” he said. “You can organize a number of different types of tourism products, or activities or experiences, along the line and get revenue generated. Something like that happens in many other jurisdictions.”

Transport Canada agreed to fund $5.3 million in bridge financing over three years based on Railmark Canada’s business case. Federal support is assured for the new operator. That wasn’t guaranteed when an earlier search that eventually led to Railmark being selected by CN was done.

“We think that’s critical,” said Dodds.

An annual subsidy of $2.2 million from Transport Canada to offer passenger service was cut in 2014, then extended a year to help the working group find another operator after CN stopped running the train. CN wouldn’t operate the passenger line without the subsidy.

The co-chair of Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains is “very optimistic” a new operator will be found even after Railmark’s short run. The difference, says Linda Savory-Gordon, is firm federal funding.

“That could make the big difference right there,” she said. “People know that if they follow the guidelines of Transport Canada that they will be able to be reimbursed for the eligible expenses. I think that it’s a very good chance that we’ll find a very good operator.”

She, and other working group members, reviewed the RFP last week before it was sent out to interested businesses.

“We’re glad that things are progressing,” said Savory-Gordon. “I’m very pleased that it’s a short turnaround too. Last time was a little longer process.”

A new operator is expected to be in place between October and December.

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is still run by CN. It’s not affected by the suspension of passenger rail service north of the Sault.