First phase of cleanup to start on Uniroyal riverfront site targeted for development

Posted on September 2, 2011

Work finally will begin on the first phase of the environmental cleanup of the storied Detroit River industrial site once used by the Uniroyal Co. to make tires.

Former National Football League great Jerome Bettis and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing hosted a press conference this morning to announce the progress on the site.

“This riverfront is our most valuable asset and has been underutilized for too long,” Bing said.

An 18-month cleanup soon will start for the estimated $20 million remediation of the western third of the site.

Under the deal, the cost to clean up the western portion was divided among Detroit-based DTE Energy Co.; Wilmington, Del.-based E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.; and Greenville, S.C.-based Michelin USA Inc.

DTE will pay to clean up the three parcels once owned by Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. — now a DTE subsidiary — and will split the cleanup cost of the Michigan Ammonia Works parcel with DuPont.

Michelin will pay for another portion of the western half.

The entire project will continue to be overseen by the company chosen by the city in 2004 for the development: Pittsburgh-based C.J. Betters Enterprises, a company affiliated with Bettis/Betters Development LLC.

Bing lauded Bettis for staying with the project for so long, and Bettis said the duration of the project is something he never foresaw at the outset.

“I told him, ‘There’s this project in Detroit; it’s going to be a great opportunity,’ ” Bettis said. “And here we are, seven years later.”

Bettis, who grew up in Detroit, said he has been committed to the project as a way to give back to a city that he believes he owes a lot to.

“I always wanted to come back and do something to help the city,” he said. “I know what a great city this is and what a great potential it has.”

Cleaning up the western portion of the site is expected to be done by spring 2013.

Detroit Economic Growth Corp. President George Jackson said developers and are interested in the site, but nothing is planned yet. Getting it cleaned up is the first priority.

“I can say it will be a mix of uses; it will include retail and residential,” Jackson said.

Still remaining to be negotiated is the remainder of the site. Negotiations are close on the eastern half of the site with Michelin and London-based Enodis plc to pay for the cleanup.

The eastern portion is “the dirtiest,” said Michael Moidel, COO of Bettis/Betters Development.

“That’s the portion where the manufactured gas was, where the ammonia was,” he said. “There are cold tar pits in there, and those tend to be very dirty.”

And Moidel said the $20 million remains an estimate.

“We still have to get down there and find out what kind of sins are buried there,” he said. “The cost could change once we find out what’s there.”

But once all the work is complete, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is ready to continue work on the extension of the RiverWalk path along the Detroit River.

“Once we get the green light, we can start construction immediately,” said conservancy CEO Faye Alexander Nelson.

The RiverWalk extension will be part of the group’s $30 million project to renovate Mt. Elliott Park, improve other nearby parks and build the RiverWalk.

“Cities throughout the world have showed the impact of a riverfront development,” Nelson said. “This is an important piece of our riverfront.”

Daniel Duggan, Crain’s Detroit