Fairgrounds could get new tenants

Board considers leasing to shops, movie and music studio to boost funds for State Fair, create more jobs.

DETROIT -- The Michigan State Fair Authority board is mulling two proposals to lease unused land for a movie and recording studio and retail shops.

Over the next six months officials will decide whether the plans are a good fit, said Robert Burns, the Michigan Department of Management and Budget's director of government affairs assigned to the authority's board.

"We may approve one plan or both or a portion of both," Burns said. "We are still studying them."

The board and the management and budget agency would have to sign off on any plans. The state asked for proposals in May and received four of them.

The entertainment complex and retail plan merited a closer look, Burns said.

Officials said the area used for the fair would be specifically protected in any lease agreement and developers would have to agree to free up their parking areas, if there were any, during the two weeks of the fair.

Todd Schoonover of Troy said leasing some of the land could help keep the fair solvent. The event, which attracts about 230,000 people annually, only can spend what it makes, fair officials said.

"It would be great," Schoonover said on opening day as his 5-year-old daughter Alison checked out a petting zoo at the fair. "We supported the zoo proposal (for a regional tax). We like family events in the city."

Although board members say the plans have merit, the proposals can be scrapped and the process restarted, Burns said.

"We are not tied to anything," he said.

Fair Authority board member Robert Porter said he likes the entertainment complex and retail proposals because they could help sustain the fair and create jobs.

"We can make this (fair) self-supporting and enhance the opportunities in southeast Michigan," Porter said.

Fair General Manager Steve Jenkins said attracting year-round events and offerings on the 170-acre fairgrounds is a priority. Former Detroit Piston Joe Dumars operates a basketball gym on the fairgrounds; there is a golf driving range and an equestrian center as well.

The Shrine Circus was held on the fairgrounds last year after a seven-year absence and is coming back in 2009, Jenkins said.

Burns said such ventures will help to keep the fair strong.

"Utilizing the fairgrounds for the 50 weeks a year there is not a fair is a vital component," he said.


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