2019 in Michigan, Metro Detroit: What to expect
Out with the old and in with the new doesn't quite fit Metro Detroit for 2019.
The new year appears to be more of a transition period, as progress continues on major developments downtown.
There isn't a glitzy arena opening or a skyscraper near completion. Motorists traveling over the Detroit River will still have to look to the Ambassador Bridge as the Gordie Howe International Bridge begins to take shape.
For change, head west to Lansing, where a Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state take power. All eyes will be on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her work with the Republican-controlled Legislature.
But many questions will likely be answered: Will Detroit finally show population gain? How will the new governor fix "the damn roads?" How will professional golf play out in its return to Detroit in June?
Maybe 2019 should be greeted with a glass of whiskey from Two James instead of a flute of Champagne.
With that, here's a look ahead into everything coming in the new year.
Several scandals to watch
Several current and former Metro Detroit public officials face possible trial in 2019 in connection with a long-running probe of public corruption that continues to widen. Defendants include Detroit Councilman Gabe Leland and Dino Bucci, the onetime right-hand man of former Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco.
Leland’s chief accuser, businessman Robert Carmack, generated controversy by surveilling Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, posting video footage of him and accusing the mayor of having an affair and living outside Detroit. Carmack also finds himself in legal trouble, having been charged the week before Christmas with four felony charges connected to the alleged theft of a $1 million property from the city of Detroit.
A trial is slated for August in the federal bribery case involving Leland, who was indicted in October. Leland is accused of agreeing to accept $15,000 and free car repairs from Carmack. Leland is set to appear in court in July for a final pretrial conference in which he would have the option of entering a plea, according to court records.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors said two months ago that their probe of corruption at Fiat Chrysler and the United Auto Workers, which has already netted convictions of seven former officials, was “far from” finished.
The investigation centers on the alleged misuse of union funds for travel, luxury goods and high-end meals and liquor and the funneling of cash from Fiat Chrysler to the union as part of a scheme to keep UAW leaders “fat, dumb and happy” during contract negotiations.
Those in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors as 2019 begins include former UAW vice president Norwood Jewell and former union president Dennis Williams, both of whom have been implicated in the scandal, and the UAW, FCA and the jointly operated UAW-Chrysler National Training Center, all of which have been labeled as unindicted co-conspirators.
The fallout from the Flint water crisis will continue in 2019, with two top state officials facing trial on charges related to the lead contamination of the city’s drinking water. Last month, chief medical executive Eden Wells was bound over for trial, while earlier in 2018, a judge ordered Michigan health and welfare chief Nick Lyon to be tried. Both face involuntary manslaughter and other charges in the wake of a state-appointed emergency manager’s decision to switch the city’s water supply to the Flint River in 2014.
So far, 15 state and local officials have been charged in connection with the lead contamination and Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that followed, with five people taking plea deals. The prosecutions stemming from the water crisis may not be finished: New Attorney General Dana Nessel has said she may re-examine the investigation.
Whitmer’s challenge: Working with GOP
Whitmer campaigned on an ambitious agenda to “fix the damn roads” and clean up contaminated drinking water, but first, she’ll have to learn how to get along with the Republican-led Legislature.
Whitmer won the governor’s race by a comfortable 10-point margin, but the GOP will return majorities to both the state Senate and House.
A former state Senate Minority Leader, Whitmer served in the minority party her entire 14 years in the Legislature and knows how to work across the aisle. Her first budget proposal, which she’ll lay out within the first two months of her tenure, will set the stage for future policy debates.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield will take over a new-look Legislature radically reshaped by term limits. The GOP leaders will need to work with slimmer majorities and, for the first time in eight years, a governor from the opposite party.
Chatfield, a 30-year-old from Levering, will be the youngest House speaker in more than a century and hopes to collaborate with Whitmer on a plan to expand the state’s open records law to allow public request for documents from the governor and lawmakers.
Shirkey, a 64-year-old small business owner from Clarklake, wants to work with Whitmer to drive down prices and reform the state’s no-fault auto insurance law, which has been the subject of intense debate — but little legislative action — over the past eight years.
But as far as those "damn roads," the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association and the Operating Engineers Local 324 will have to make peace after MITA instituted a work stoppage in September after multiple attempts to bargain a new contract failed. Both sides are expected to come together before the start of the next road construction season to see if they can settle their differences.
Retention in third-grade reading law kicks in
Third-grade students entering Michigan’s K-12 public schools this fall will be subject to retention under the state’s third-grade reading law if they are not reading at grade level on the state assessment in 2020. The law, adopted in 2016, stops third-grade students from moving to the fourth grade — with some exemptions — if they read a grade level behind on the state’s English Language Arts assessment, which measures reading, writing, listening and language.
Meanwhile, Michigan’s K-12 schools will be rated on education metrics and issued A through F letter grades following Gov. Rick Snyder's approval last week.
Schools also are ramping up efforts to modernize security in the wake of shootings nationwide. Spending on school security is increasing dramatically after state lawmakers gave $25 million to the Michigan State Police in 2018 for school safety grants. The majority of funds will be used this year to add access control systems, security film or glass and public address systems; install door barricade devices and door locks and purchase mobile phone communications systems.
In Detroit, a new educational partnership kicking off this fall at Marygrove College will include a new K-12 school for Detroit public schools, a teacher-education training program modeled after hospital residency programs and an early childhood education center. The P-20 Partnership, one of the first in the nation according to organizers, is backed with a $50 million investment from the Kresge Foundation. The innovative educational campus will offer pre-K through graduate school studies with wrap-around services and community programs.
Michigan State to get new leadership
As the state’s largest public university continues to grapple with the fallout from the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, it’s also in the middle of a leadership transition. The new year brings three new members — Kelly Tebay, Brianna Scott and Nancy Schlichting — to the board of trustees, in place of departing members Brian Breslin, Mitch Lyons and George Perles.
The turnover gives Democrats control of the board, which had been split evenly between the parties. The trustees are expected to choose a permanent replacement for interim President John Engler by July after a search process that Nassar victims believe is being wrongly closed to the public.
Going up, coming down
2019 will be a major test of whether the most epic development plans Detroit has seen in a half century will come close to fulfilling their goals. Most major projects will still be works in progress next year and won’t finish until 2020 and beyond. But next year expect details of what corporations and stores could be part of the plans. Will Detroit finally get a Target? An Apple store? Another Whole Foods or its first Trader Joe's?
What is known is that the Metropolitan Building’s Element Hotel and the Shinola Hotel are accepting their first overnight guests in early January just as the city faces high hotel occupancy rates. In February, The Corner, a mixed-use retail and residential building in Corktown owned by Downtown Detroit Partnership CEO Eric Larson, is expected to open. Groundbreaking is expected in early 2019 on the $108 million, mixed-income Lafayette West development in Detroit’s Lafayette Park. The 374-residential unit development will sit on the site of the former Shapero Hall between I-375 and Rivard Street. It will include retail.
Preparations for the Joe Louis Arena are slated to begin early in the year with its demolition projected for June. In December, the Michigan Strategic Fund board voted to approve a $10 million loan for the demolition of the vacant site along Detroit’s riverfront to make way for future development. The arena and its adjacent parking garage were given to New York-based bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. under an agreement struck in Detroit's Chapter 9 bankruptcy case. FGIC seeks to recoup $1.1 billion it lost in Detroit’s bankruptcy by developing the arena land after the venue is demolished. Under the deal, Detroit is required to facilitate the arena's razing. FGIC was granted an extension for its development plan until Jan. 15, 2020. The arena closed in the summer of 2017.
In September, the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center is planning to hold its opening. The East Jefferson development that will include Detroit’s third Meijer is also expected to open in the fall.
If the Michigan Gaming Control Board approves the sale of Greektown Casino-Hotel, Penn National Gaming Inc.’s deal with Dan Gilbert would close in the middle of 2019 and perhaps increase efforts at the state level to legalize sports betting in Michigan, an effort to which Penn National officials have said they plan to contribute.
Marijuana's future becomes less hazy among other business
For Michigan industries, cannabis and hemp will be a growing sector following recreational marijuana legalization and passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp production. Proposal 1 gives the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs until Dec. 6 before it must begin accepting applications for recreational pot dispensaries, growers and processors.
The greater agriculture industry is wondering what will happen with Chinese tariffs and is awaiting the approval of the new U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement. The construction industry, often an economic indicator, is one to watch as some economists forecast a recession by 2020. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority is expected to release an affordable housing report in March that assess obstacles to home ownership, a request that had been made by the Home Builders Association of Michigan.
On the malls front, Northland Center is being demolished piece by piece; Summit Place Mall is being torn down and redeveloped; Sterling Heights is urging Lakeside to make some dramatic changes with near silence from the mall’s owner, and Eastland Center is under new ownership.
The Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association hopes to select a site in early 2019 in Northern Michigan to launch low-orbit satellites, a move that could usher into Michigan a greater aerospace industry that now is mostly confined to California and Florida. The group hopes to secure funding for the project by the end of the third quarter.
In big businesses, DowDuPont Inc.’s first quarter of 2019 is the final one for the three-division corporation. Dow Chemical will be the first division to spin off on April 1. DTE Energy Co. and Consumers Energy will submit new reports to the Michigan Public Service Commission in March and April on their future plans with focuses on renewable energy programs and electric vehicle infrastructure. Construction on DTE’s new natural gas power plant in East China Township in St. Clair County begins in the spring. And a federal jury trial against Quicken Loans over its loan approval process between 2009 and 2011 is scheduled to begin March 11, though Quicken’s lawyer has said he hopes to get the case against the company dismissed before then.
Automakers shift into uncertainty
Detroit’s automakers are also facing a year of transition as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. navigate extensive restructuring plans and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV adjusts its manufacturing footprint in the U.S. by adding an extra assembly plant in Detroit. GM’s restructuring — which begins in earnest in January when some 6,000 white-collar workers are expected to be laid off — has nabbed the most headlines in the ramp-up to 2019. GM’s plans to idle five plants in the U.S. and Canada have drawn the ire of unions in both countries, U.S. lawmakers and President Donald Trump.
That as well as FCA’s plans to resurrect an idled engine plant in Detroit as an assembly plant were a prelude to what is expected to be an especially combative quadrennial renegotiation of the Big Three’s contracts with the United Auto Workers. The union’s contracts expire in the fall.
The last-ever January North American International Auto Show in Detroit kicks off 2019 for the automotive industry. The auto show is slated for June in 2020 as the show rebrands as a summer festival. Metro Detroiters will also want to keep attuned to what may replace it in January 2020 at Cobo Center, which also may change its name.
After decades of exposure to the elements, the Michigan Central Depot is expected to be dried out by summer 2019, part of the first phase Ford began in December to renovate the building as part of its $740 million Corktown campus. An extensive scaffolding system is expected to go up in the summer as well as an exterior construction lift to the east end of the station. Masonry work is expected to take three summers. Ford also hopes to hold a job fair early in the new year to help contractors meet the 50 percent Detroit workers threshold that the city requires for major projects.
UM, MSU hoops look bright for 2019
For sports fans, 2018 likely will be known more for its turmoil than titles. Sure, the Michigan and Michigan State men’s basketball teams split Big Ten titles, with the Wolverines making a spirited run to the NCAA Tournament title game. After that, though, there wasn’t much to shout about. The Lions, Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers all missed the playoffs, with the first two firing their head coaches (so long, Jim Caldwell and Stan Van Gundy) and the other two mired in rebuilding projects.
With the new year, though, comes hope. It usually does.
While the Lions actually appeared to take a step back under new head coach Matt Patricia (hey, at least they’ll get a No. 8 draft pick), the Pistons could try for a playoff berth in a weak conference.
And, though the Red Wings are rebuilding, they’re showing enough that they’ll be in the conversation for a playoff spot as 2019 gets rolling, with young players like Michael Rasmussen and Dennis Cholowski playing major roles, and Filip Zadina waiting on the Wings.
The new year figures to be another tough one for the Tigers, but an improving farm system could start bearing fruit in 2019, maybe in the form of a full-season audition from slugger Christin Stewart, or a cameo from former first-round pick, pitcher Beau Burrows. Fox Sports Detroit will also have a new broadcast crew calling ballgames following the abrupt departures of Mario Impemba and Rod Allen.
Titles will be few and far between in Detroit in 2019, but the Motor City still will find a place to shine — on the PGA Tour, of all places, when the Rocket Mortgage Classic comes to the Detroit Golf Club on June 27-30.
Michigan and Michigan State are expected to hold up their end again on the hardwood. Both are ranked in the top 10 as 2018 winds down — the Wolverines have yet to lose — and both figure to be the frontrunners for the Big Ten title, and possibly much more in 2019.
Their counterparts on the gridiron also could bounce back after falling short in the Big Ten in 2018, with the Wolverines and Spartans both bringing back plenty in 2019, and no Urban Meyer to push them around anymore.