That first draft, dated Dec. 13, notes (on page 8, in the first paragraph under “Methodology”) that interviews and focus group conversations had been held with “over 80 people, collectively,” a number reduced to 60 in the version that became public in January.
Notably present in the initial draft but absent from the final were the names of several groups that participated, including AOPA, the National Business Aviation Association, Coleman A. Young International Airport Education Association, Tuskegee Airmen, and the “new Civil Air Patrol chapter at DET.” Feedback gathered from other business and civic groups including the Building Owners and Managers Association of Metro Detroit and Urban Land Institute, which helped connect the consultants with real estate professionals with at least 20 years of local experience, was also omitted.
The final report says little about the airport’s value to the community, and emphasizes its cost to local taxpayers with little indication that federal grants could cover most of the cost of needed repairs and upgrades.
Crain's reported that also omitted was a section suggesting that Duggan's office already has plans to convert the entire airport into an industrial park.
"The Mayor's Office current strategy to redevelop the airport is based upon large auto suppliers requiring 40-acre parcels, allowing for up to six users with another 25 acres for commercial and retail redevelopment of the Historic Executive Terminal at the corner of Conner Avenue and Gratiot Avenue," GRA's draft report says. "Taken together, the airport and surrounding land could total in excess of 530 acres for industrial users."
But Detroit would likely face an uphill legal, political and budgetary battle if Duggan moved to sell off all or part of the airport land.
The city would have to pay back an as-yet unknown "large obligation" in grants for the airport it has received over nearly 20 years, and the State of Michigan has right of first refusal for the land, according to the GRA consultant's report. The exact obligation is not known; that is expected to be determined in the third phase of the study.
Crain's also noted that the Duggan administration is conducting the study as it also denies "aviation companies, flight schools, or vendors the ability to sign multi-year leases and invest in the facility." The group Friends of City Airport sees it as an effort to put the airfield out of business, the publication reported.
All of this prompted the editor-in-chief of Crain's to last Sunday publish what might be his first-ever public critique of the mayor.
"I was stunned to learn that our mayor's office edited out part of the report that they clearly didn't like or agree with," Keith Crain says in a column titled, "The end of transparency in Detroit?" "That is simply wrong — very wrong — and something that I would have expected under Coleman Young's administration, not Duggan's."
The city denies its meddling was motivated by a mayor intent on getting his way.
"The agreement and the direction given to the consultant was that first phase of the study would present only the facts as they are today regarding airport usage, capital needs and the overall small aircraft market in the Detroit area, while subsequent phases would explore options and provide recommendations," Duggan spokesman John Roach says in an email. "Because the consultant included in the Phase One draft information that was outside the scope of that portion of the study, it was appropriately removed in the final Phase One report."
But Crain isn't buying it.
"Why go to so much trouble to hide good advice?" he writes. "This would seem to be a simple case of censorship by the mayor's office to eliminate unfavorable conclusions that they didn't want made public."
"I had always hoped that this mayor believed in complete transparency, but it would appear that that is not the case," he adds.
You can compare the draft study versus the final below.
Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.
Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.
Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.
Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.