Detroit City Council's Tuesday session spanned more than six hours, primarily tied to discussions about tax abatements for the District Detroit development. Malachi has your rundown on the development plan and other weekly happenings at the table. (City of Detroit)

Welcome to your weekly recap of City Council news. I’m your host Malachi Barrett.

Wow, Tuesday’s formal session was a real one. We spent around six hours hearing about the District Detroit project before a monumental vote to approve tax breaks. It was a good chance to meet folks who have been keeping up on the newsletter, but I also think my brain started to leak out of my head at one point. I wrote a pretty long story about what happened, so check it out for the full details.

There won’t be a newsletter from me next week. I’m taking a short break to visit an old friend in a strange land. Sorry folks!

Are you surprised City Council approved District Detroit tax breaks?

In this week’s newsletter:

  • Council seeks move involvement with land bank
  • State money fuels industrial demolition projects
  • Ban on cashless establishments moves ahead
  • Award-winning restaurant expands with city land deal

What page are we on?

Check out the full agenda here. Read Detroit Documenter notes for a recap of the finer details, or watch a recording of the meeting online. All council members were present Tuesday.

Minutes from last week’s formal session weren’t posted at the time of writing. Stay on top of upcoming public meetings by checking a handy calendar compiled by Soap Box Detroit.

If you like what you see, tell your friends to sign up for free.

State money will pay for blight removal

Detroit is getting $25 million to eliminate blight at five sites across the city: Junction McGraw, old Kettering High School, Eastern Market, Project Orb: American Axle and Manufacturing, and the Packard Plant.

The grant money comes from the State Land Bank Authority, which is separate from the local organization. It pays for demolition, abatement of hazardous materials, disposal of debris and other activities. Blight cleanup is expected to create 2,376 jobs.
Just under half of the funds ($12.3 million) will go toward the Packard Plant. A second phase of demolition on the city’s largest remaining abandoned auto factory started earlier this year. Another $1.6 million will rebuild public streets surrounding Eastern Market.

Council wants answers from Detroit Land Bank

City Council members want more involvement in the affairs of the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

Council Member Mary Waters introduced a memo calling for a review of all bulk land sales over the past five years. She’s also drafting a resolution asking the Office of the Inspector General to conduct an audit of a program that allows people living in land bank homes to buy them at a major discount after completing homeowner education courses. Waters worries eligible Detroiters are being denied participation in the program.

Council President Mary Sheffield introduced another resolution asking the land bank to restore the council’s ability to endorse neighborhood lot sales. This would allow the council to vouch for residents who are trying to buy lots that aren’t adjacent to their property.

The council used to perform this role until 2021, when “the City Council and the DLBA came to an impasse,” according to the resolution. Apparently the impasse has passed, and Sheffield wants council to endorse lot sales again.

Council Member Gabriela Santiago-Romero is asking more questions about the timeline of a $2 million blight survey the council approved funding for earlier this year.

What’s next? Sheffield’s resolution was referred to the planning and economic development committee for review. The same goes for Waters’ memo.

Ban on cashless business coming soon?

A proposed ordinance banning retail and food service businesses in the city from only allowing electronic transactions will soon come for a vote.

Council Member Angela Whitfield-Calloway introduced the ordinance, arguing that cash-free businesses deny equal access to Detroiters. She cited a 2020 report by the University of Michigan that found one in four Detroit residents are unbanked; meaning they don’t own a checking or savings account. The report found 89% of unbanked Detroiters are Black, while just 4% of unbanked Detroiters are white.

The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to refuse to accept cash as a form of payment. Violating the ordinance could result in a $500 fine or 90 days in jail.

The ordinance also prevents businesses from charging a higher price for cash transactions or posting signs saying cash is not accepted. It doesn’t apply to parking lots or garages, wholesale clubs, retailers who sell goods through a membership, transactions for retained goods or company stores that are exclusive to employees.

What’s next? It’s not clear when the ordinance will be voted on. It needs support from two-thirds of the council to take immediate effect. The ordinance takes effect a month after the vote if it passes by a simple majority.

Baobob Fare plans second location

Council unanimously approved a land sale with Baobab Fare so the popular East African restaurant can open a second location on Detroit’s east side.

Baobab Fare will pay $145,000 for a building at 16900 E. Warren in the East English Village neighborhood. City documents show Hamissi Mamba and his wife Nadia Nijimbere plan to use the site for a new restaurant without drive-through or drive-up services. The building was picked up by the city for $30,000 in 2010.

My take: If you haven’t been to Baobab Fare’s original location in New Center, you’re missing out. I visited for the first time after my BridgeDetroit colleague Jena Brooker broke the news that Mamba won Food Network’s Chopped competition. I had the Kumuhana with African Tea and felt myself ascend into a new dimension of flavor.

No cars, yes pets

A $2.9 million contract for new city vehicles failed by a 7-2 vote as Council Member Scott Benson said the deal isn’t moving Detroit closer toward its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Benson said future contracts need to consider electric vehicles or hybrids, as he doesn’t want to continue buying into “dying technology.”

City records show Feldman Ford, LLC, was up for the contract, but no details were shared about how many cars were up for sale or what departments they would be used for. Council Members Fred Durhal and Waters voted in favor of the contract.

However, the council did approve $500,000 in funding for a new dog park at Palmer Park. The contract was awarded to Detroit-based Michigan Recreational Construction, a frequent partner with the city on parks projects.

Detroit honors transgender rights activist

Transgender rights activist Racquelle Trammell was given a Spirit of Detroit Award by Council Member Santiago-Romero. Trammell is a local entrepreneur and the host of the Miss Mouth Podcast, which highlights the experiences of trans and non-binary people of color.

Trammell thanked the council for recognizing her humanity and shared a message for Black girls in Detroit:

“Don’t give up hope. Remember to see purpose in every opportunity. Find your worth whenever you look in the mirror and stay true to who you are.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the impact of Whitfield-Calloway’s ban on cashless establishments.

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