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Hero or Villain: Matty Moroun on His Detroit Holdings

Next to former mayor Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick, I can't think of a more controversial Detroit figure than Manuel (Matty) Moroun. He is our “Billionaire Next Door,” the man who owns property across Detroit, including the infamous Michigan Central Station and the Ambassador Bridge.

Fantastic article in Sunday's Detroit Free Press with a very, very, very RARE interview with Moroun about his properties, his views on city development and his responses to criticism about his business behavior.

Any mention of the man will spark debate among Detroiters – is he is hero who will save buildings that would otherwise be demolished? Or is he a villain who lets his properties decay while he sits on an ever-growing empire?

Here is a highlight from the Freep story – kudos to John Gallagher and everyone else there for getting Moroun on the record. The Freep traced Moroun's holdings to find he has at least 625 parcels in the city, mostly in areas where there is transportation or other investments.

I know some reporters who have tried literally for years to get the man on the phone or in person. This is a major coup to hear from Moroun about these topics…Anyway, some of Moroun's comments from the story:

"For me to own land in Detroit, it was a badge of honor, and it was support for the city," Moroun said. "Our fortunes are linked to the city. If the city doesn't have any prosperity, we don't have any value in the land, right?"

"I'm a benefit to the city. I'm not a detriment," he said.

"It's called accumulation in order to have something in which you can develop something nice, mostly for the automotive industry," he said.

"We want the city back on its feet. We want to have jobs for the city," he said.

My personal favorite stuff is what Moroun and his spokesman had to say about the train station -- a fabulous piece of architecture that both shames and defines the city.

"What would you suggest I do with it?" he asked. "I can't keep the thieves out until I put something in it, but what can I put in it? I'm willing, anxious. Where is the fairness? Where is the reasonableness? Give me something that I could put in it."

Patrick Moran, Moroun's corporation counsel, said someday people would appreciate the fact that Moroun did not demolish the station.

"Matty takes a lot of heat," Moran said, "and in years to come, he's going to be seen as a preservationist."

Read the whole article here.

Here is a link to a photo essay about Moroun's properties. Also a must-see part of the piece.

"We're not just buying it waiting for someone else to come along and want it and then get a price out of it," Moran said. "We're buying it because we have a game plan. Some of them are short term, most of them are long term, for the redevelopment of Detroit. In the meantime, we try and be as good a neighbor as we can. We pay taxes, and we help the city coffers."

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  • 1

    I can't tell: Is the "very, very, very RARE interview" thing humor because the Freep mentioned it three times in the story and once in a headline? And because other reporters in town have interviewed Moroun in the past 2 years, including myself and Charlie LeDuff of The Detroit News? This was kinda made out to be like landing J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. Just wondering ...

  • 2

    After reading the Sunday article, I'd say neither hero nor villain is descriptive. Moroun plainly knows how to make a lot of money, not a trait that comes easily to most of us. He like other landowners does have a legal responsibility to secure and maintain his properties, something that he has neglected to do. Plainly, it's not to his financial benefit to do so. If it were, he would have done so. In this regard, he's not all that different from many other property owners, but that's no excuse.

    The Michigan Central Depot should be torn down. It has no economic value. It's an eyesore. It is not a building like the Coliseum in Rome that has significant historical value. It was too large to begin with. Nobody has been able to find an economic use for the building that does not involve substantial public dollars. Moroun's public image, except among a few die hard preservationists, would soar if he were to spend a small amount of his substantial fortune and tear it down. I suppose his natural instinct as an excellent business person is to not take a "loss." If you wait around long enough, public dollars will be found either to tear it down or make something of the place. Perhaps he's right. On the other hand, tearing this eyesore down will instantly elevate the value of his adjacent properties in southwest Detroit since the area will become more attractive for development! My guess--in the end he will make more money tearing it down than leaving it standing.

  • 3

    Who is claiming Matty Moroun as a hero? Really? Come on. Are you serious? Or is this just some literary intro to make the blog post sound interesting and/or balanced?

    I don't get it. I want to know the Detroiter(s) that consider the man a hero. Please, give me the name. No, really.

    I know some people that don't think he is evil and that think he is just a sharp business man, but I really don't know anyone who considers him a hero. Am I delusional? Are there Detroiters who sing this guy's praises?

  • 4

    I shudder to think that Moroun might buy a property on the block where I own a home in Detroit. A sure harbinger of blight to come. That is what he has done to Detroit and continues to do. Unlike Midas, everything Moroun touches is and turns to blight.

  • 5

    Having never been inside the old terminal, all I know is what I've read and old pictures I've seen, all pretty teriffic. Any way to lop off the top XX stories of the building, restore the lobby to its original grandeur and use it as a welcome center for Southwest Detroit...or some other public purpose? Then someone could cut all the grass in front, plant a few trees and flowers and put up some playground equipment for neighborhood kids. How about it Matty? You're asking for ideas. John Hantz can't take care of all the vacant land in Detroit by himself!

  • 6

    Don't you find it interesting how a "reclusive" billionaire became so "public" and so quickly all of a sudden?

    Could it be due to Canada's desire to buy his bridge as cheaply as possible by forcing him out of business perhaps? After all, Canada's PM sent out a "secret mandate letter" over Xmas to buy the bridge.

    Moroun is neither a hero or a villain but a businessman who is very successful using his own money, not taxpayers. All of his purchases as shown in the story can be described as strategic to accomplish his business objectives, not speculation.

    This line in the story was interesting:

    ""He at times smiled, chuckled, grew pensive, and often urged a Free Press reporter to treat him fairly.

    He complained of being "demonized" and "vilified" in news media reports, and urged a Free Press reporter to "Rise above it!"

    This history repeating itself. Here is an excerpt from a Detroit News story written some time ago. It clearly explains the smear tactics being used against him today:

    "Moroun often finds himself in court. The Canadians, citing federal law, were demanding 50 percent interest when he took control of the bridge in 1979. Moroun took the Canadian government to court in the United States. The Canadians struck back, launching an investigation into his background, intimating that Moroun had ties to organized crime. The allegation was never proven. After a decade in court, the Canadians capitulated, settling for almost nothing, except an agreement that Moroun make improvements to the bridge."

    Canada's motto: If at first you do not succeed....

  • 7

    A hero? No, of course not. But the criticism lobbed Moroun's way sounds more like jealousness of his business accumen from those who relegate themselves to the sidelines but pine for the days when their potential was still limitless.

  • 8

    Mr. Moroun is simply an entrepreneur. He is excercising his abilities under the spirit of capitalism that has built and sustained our two nations.

    It's amusing to read the public bureacrats who clearly loathe the man because he is able to do what they are not.

    Those who know, do. Those who can't, become politicians.

    But as with the DRIC highway, any plan will result in impacts. The question becomes how do you address those impacts. Hundreds of homes are boarded up in Windsor, Ontario because of the DRIC. But it is not acceptable for private enterprise to practise what public authorities preach?

    Mr. Moroun presents an immense opportunity if public bureaucrats spent half the amount time they do navel gazing, actually figuring out how to capitalise on this.

    • 8.1

      Whoa, Whoa, Whoa!!..Sounds like You're taking a page out of Foreign Govts.' Revisionist History Classes! Maroun ..C'mon YOU Dumbas--!! Manny -Matty Fired well over 10,000 Teamster represented drivers --ON LABOR DAY, no less!!! Then hired what the Real Working Man and Woman would only politely call SCABS!!- to illegally replace them!! The 10,000 PLUS workers and THEIR Wives and Children LOST ALL Bargained and Contractually obligated agreed to items, pay, benefits, and Pension rights> I think the crap you're spewing speaks volumes on where Many Americans Heads are placed!!..And it 'ain't' UP on The Bridge!!! This Country was nearly just ruined by Marouns--Oops! I mean MORONS like YOU!!! And don't spew-off about the UNIONS ruining everything! You Believe That?..Then move to Alabama or Tennessee and buy a FOREIGN CAR built by ..'..the Yellow man..Not the Black or White Man...'...

  • 9

    "What would you suggest I do with it?" he asked. "Give me something that I could put in it."

    That really begs the question; If you don't know what to do with it, why the hell did you buy it?

    The only reasonable conclusion is that Matty never intended to do anything with it, never intended to spend a nickel on renovating it, maintaining it or even preserving what was left of it. He was speculating that he could unload it at a handsome profit with minimal effort or expense on his part.

    Matty's supporters say, that is smart business, capitalism at its best. I always believed that capitalism was the creation of wealth through the creation of value, not the stripping of value. If that is what capitalism has become, it is a sad distortion and we are definitely a city, if not an entire nation, in decline.

    • 9.1

      Actually, I don't believe he bought it. If I remember correctly, he acquired the depot as part of a debt default settlement, or something like that.

  • 10

    Using economic jargon, the Michigan Central Depot generates negative externalities. The values of all of the properties in sight of this eyesore are dragged down. I suppose, at least for awhile, that Mr. Moroun benefits from this because all of the properties that he purchases in sight of the Depot will have depressed prices. With his ownership and control of the Depot, he has influence over the market prices of all properties in sight of this eyesore. Why would others make investments in the area when there is only uncertainty about the Depot? Only Moroun knows its future, and he's not making his plans known, presumably for the simple reason that the prices of properties in sight of the Depot would rise. Perhaps he feels that he has not yet purchased enough properties in this area at depressed prices for it to be time to tear the Depot down? Just speculation.

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