By Joel Thurtell
What a friend we have in Matty.
A benefactor, really.
After reading the April 11, 2010 Detroit Free Press “I’m a benefit to the city” spread on billionaire trucking magnate Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s land dealings, readers might be forgiven for thinking we should all be grateful for a citizen like Matty who acquires and holds big and small buildings alike, keeping them in a uniform state of decrepitude and ugliness.
“I’m not a detriment,” says Matty. “We try to do the right thing.”
His claims would be more convincing if I could just forget that the man illegally seized part of 23rd Street — city property, a public thoroughfare — and on top of it built a gas station and duty-free store without permits or actual ownership of the property. This is the “right thing”?
Forget too that he illegally seized part of the city’s Riverside Park so he could possess if not own the footprint for his dream of a new international bridge alongside his substandard antique known as the Ambassador Bridge. The “right thing”?
Forget that he started building his new bridge without permits until the Coast Guard cried foul. Now we have a bridge to nowhere.
Forget that whenever a government agency or court tells him “no,” the Savior of Detroit stalls, procrastinates and prevaricates with endless lawsuits.
If Matty does it, it must be the “right thing”.
Matty’s doing all these favors for us, remember.
What a friend we have in Matty.
Someday, so a Moroun lieutenant says, the bridge mogul will be remembered for his vision and civic consciousness, though today he’s reviled by some journalists and public servants — miscreants who believe that a rich man who thinks he can steal his way to even bigger wealth is not the proper custodian of a portal that accounts for a quarter of the freight carried between the U.S. and Canada.
Miscreants like, well, like me.
Perhaps I can be forgiven for conjuring the memory of a different face of Matty Moroun.
The face of Matty I remember had a shaved head. He had tattoos on his arms. He had a shotgun in the front passenger seat beside where he sat in Matty’s hireling security company pickup. He had just driven over the lawn of Riverside Park to warn me I had to leave city property because I was a threat to Homeland Security. Or else. When I told him he had no authority over me, he tried to arrest me.
Matty, in the guise of this goon, was lying. I was on public property and had a right to be there. He didn’t want me taking pictures of his bridge? Tough — it’s public property and anyone can shoot photos there any time they want.
Matty had no right to kick me out. Nor did Matty have a right, through his shave-headed thug, to tote a shotgun in his pickup. Those “Homeland Security” signs on the chain-link fence (they’re still there!) are Matty’s fraud.
The fence itself is on city property. Yes, present tense. Despite court orders that he get off the land, Matty is still there. He’s ripped off a section of city park and yes, still using it to store construction materials. It’s a nice, private lunch spot for his workers.
Oh yes, what a pal we have in Matty.
Patrick Moran, a Moroun lawyer, predicted “in years to come, he’s going to be seen as a preservationist.”
Aha! So that’s what he’s up to. The guy who’s gunning for a preservationist legacy destroyed basketball courts and tore down shade trees in Riverside Park without permission, without compensating the city, all because apparently he believes that billionaires can do whatever they want.
This is the face of Matty the Squatter.
The shotgun totin’ goon is the face of Matty the Bully. You don’t see that face in the Detroit Free Press.
Isn’t it curious how Michigan’s great morning tradition could spend tons of time poring over land records, yet somehow miss Riverside Park?
Curious, too, that there was no mention of Matty’s land acquisitions across the Detroit River in Canada. Drive through the Windsor suburb of Sandwich and you’ll see 140 or so boarded-up houses with signs warning of guard dogs inside. There are cynics who think Matty wants to create blight to devalue surrounding houses and so buy up cheap whole blocks of real estate. Now I understand: He’s not a blockbuster. He turns a once fine neighborhood of sturdy homes into acres of creeping crud, then keeps things that way.
Sure enough, he’s a “preservationist.”
He’s doing the “right thing.”
What a friend.
Another thing about Sandwich. Seems Matty started building a ramp from his proposed six-lane road leading to the “twin” bridge he lacks permits to build. Well, according to Sandwich resident Mary Ann Cuderman, Matty was missing a permit to complete the ramp. Now it sits incomplete, like a concrete cliff. Match that Canadian-side boondoggle to the unfinished (due to no permit) bridge on the U.S. side, and you have a new meaning for Matty’s concept of “twin.”
As in, twin bridges to nowhere.
There they sit, on both sides of the Detroit River, preserved for posterity.
Twin monuments to the legacy of a “preservationist”.
(Note to the Free Press: You get to Windsor by either of two ways — the Detroit-Windsor tunnel or the Ambassador Bridge. I prefer the tunnel, because it doesn’t put the eight buck round trip fare in Matty’s pocket. Either way, you can expense it. Oh yes, don’t forget your passport.)
It took more than a year and a half for the friendly Free Press to produce — what? A bunch of chest-thumping about a supposedly rare sit-down interview with the great Matty, who supplied a bunch of half-baked rationalizations for his civic misbehavior and gussied-up bromides about some imagined legacy.
Then, it turns out, the Big Interview was not so unique — according to Bill Shea of Crain’s Detroit Business, Shea and two other reporters have had one-on-one talks with Matty, though without trumpeting the “coup” in a headline and multiple boasts.
Want to see the real face of Matty?
Stow the friendly Freep in the nearest trash bin.
Drop in on the Lafayette Bait and Tackle shop — if you can find it.
This is the store the Free Press recently called a “shack.”
This is the business Matty all but destroyed when he stole 23rd Street and built his gas station and duty-free store on it.
Used to be, people who wanted to fish in the Detroit River could buy their minnows and worms by driving a short distance up 23rd Street to the tackle shop. Not now. You have to know exactly where to turn into the Ambassador Bridge property. You follow a meandering gravel path around the duty-free store and gas station and finally, if you’re lucky, you finish your odyssey at the bait store.
If you’re not lucky, you’ll wind up in Canada. That’s right! One wrong turn and you’d better have your passport.
Like Riverside Park, a judge has ordered Matty to get his buildings off the city street.
Like Riverside, 23rd Street is still the site of Matty’s businesses.
Screw the city. Screw judges. This is the face of the pirate billionaire. This is the face of a man who makes the law to suit his needs.
If you walked away from last Sunday’s propaganda parade thinking Matty’s a swell guy after all, please turn to the April 14, 2010 Metro Times and an article by Curt Guyette.
The Metro Times didn’t need a one-hour “rare” interview with the troll under the bridge to report a face of Matty that swung into view during a recent court session involving Matty’s penchant for seizing city land.
Echoing a sentiment expressed more than once on this blog, city attorney Eric Gaabo remarked that the government could stop being polite and abandon the court process, since it has the legal power to seize 23rd Street back from Matty.
According to the Metro Times, Matty’s lawyer, William Seikaly, had this to say about that:
It’s a good thing that didn’t happen, responded Seikaly, saying that if any city employees tried to tear down the fence they “would be met by armed guards. Probably somebody would be shot.”
Ain’t that sweet?
Probably somebody would be shot.
City workers trying to fence off city property would be attacked with firearms.
By Matty’s goons.
Which is to say, by Matty.
That doesn’t play well around me.
I was confronted by one of Matty’s goons on city property.
“Probably would be shot.”
Well, that goon had a shotgun.
When he tried to arrest me, I walked away.
When he tried to block my car with his pickup, I drove away.
Guess I’m lucky.
I’m lucky the goon didn’t shoot me.
That was the real face of Matty.
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org