|Wherever "blight" exists in America; wherever entrepreneurs create a 'ghetto tour', know the Black Undertow is near|
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr will give Wall Street creditors a guided bus tour through crime-ridden and blighted neighborhoods Wednesday to emphasize the city’s dire condition and need to restructure about $20 billion in debt.
About 40 bondholders, insurers and other unsecured creditors, mostly from New York City and New Jersey, are invited and will have to sign a waiver indemnifying the city if anyone is injured or killed during the roughly four-hour tour, Orr’s spokesman Bill Nowling said. About 15 people have signed up so far and armed escorts are likely.
The tour was conceived after some financial creditors balked at agreeing to concessions that would keep the city from filing the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Some creditors also questioned whether Orr’s restructuring plan cuts deep enough and pushed the emergency manager to sell city assets, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts’ world-renowned collection.
“They don’t realize how bad conditions are here and what I’m dealing with,” Orr said after a taping Wednesday of the show “MiWeek“ on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56. “I’m going to have them take the bus. In fact, I may have them walk … down Gratiot.
I want them to see that no American city should be like this — it’s a national shame.”The show airs Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The plan is to have bondholders ride a Detroit Department of Transportation bus — not a chartered coach.
“If they want to buy a charter, they can buy one,” Nowling said. “If you’re a single mom with kids in school, you spend that much time on a city bus every day.”
The tour is creative, but Douglas Bernstein, a Bloomfield Hills attorney and expert on municipal bankruptcy, is skeptical.
“It’s a novel approach. I’ll give him that,” Bernstein said. “You do not make business decisions based on emotion. If I’m a creditor, I’m looking at numbers, not a tour of the city.”
Though the itinerary is not finalized, the tour is designed to be grim and feature stops at burned-out homes and views rarely shown during national broadcasts of Detroit sporting events.
“I’m sure we will have some kind of police security,” Nowling said.
During the tour, creditors might notice at least one similarity between New York City and Detroit.
There were 153 homicides through June in Detroit, one less than in New York City, though the Big Apple has 12 times as many residents.
“We want to give them a sense of the scope of the problem here in Detroit,” Nowling said. “And see it first-hand. We want them to see the real Detroit.”
Blight will be a featured attraction Wednesday.
The city has 31,000 structures on its dangerous buildings list. Orr could take bondholders through deserted portions of the city to emphasize the impact residential flight and nonpayment has had on Detroit’s tax base.
Delinquency is so widespread that 77 blocks had only one owner who paid taxes last year, The News previously reported.
The city’s share of uncollected taxes last year was $131 million — an amount equal to 12 percent of Detroit’s general fund budget.
“We want them to see the size of the city and the sense of how blight is taking over a lot of places,” Nowling said. “We want to show them a blighted neighborhood, not just one home.”
The tour is a calculated response to creditors, some of whom have faulted Orr’s restructuring plan or tried to control it, Nowling said.
“Oh yeah, they want to come in and tell us how to do the restructuring,” Nowling said. “They don’t have an appreciation for the problems here. They don’t know what a blighted neighborhood looks like. They don’t live in one.
“What they know of Detroit primarily has to do with what they see between the airport and downtown.”
Specifically, Orr has received “tremendous push-back from general obligation bondholders,” Nowling said.
Those bondholders are pushing Orr to sell city assets.
“They expect us to sell everything that is not nailed down,” Nowling said. “That’s the attitude they are taking and we want to make sure we show them that just about everything’s nailed down and we can’t liquidate it.”
Bernstein said the tour could provide creditors with a “visual demonstration” of the challenges they would face in trying to collect what’s owed.
“He’s got to hope that emotion and a sense of helping the city rehabilitate itself is a factor at all as to whether there’s one or more creditors willing to take that step,” Bernstein said.
Ed McNeil, a representative of AFSCME Council 25, said he hadn’t heard of Orr’s plan to bus creditors through the city, but said it’s not the right move.
“You are going to ride around on a bus? You are looking in the wrong place,” he said. “They (Orr’s team) need to be collecting taxes that are owed. That’s what they need to be moving to do. You are not going to do that riding past corporations that owe the city money.”