CHICAGO - Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was expected to sign into law Friday a long sought-after $288 million bond-financed plan to expand Detroit's Cobo Center.
The measure creates a new bond-issuing authority to oversee the downtown Detroit convention center, which is home to the North American International Auto Show.
An increasing number of automakers over the last few years have cited space constraints and pulled out of the annual show, which brings in roughly $600 million annually to the struggling area.
The measure was considered a top priority for Granholm and state lawmakers during December's lame-duck session.
The 166,000-square-foot expansion would be financed through hotel and liquor taxes. The new five-member authority would have the power to collect the taxes and issue bonds for the center.
Coming after years of bickering among regional leaders, the proposal is still subject to veto by the City Council, which spent two days last week debating the proposal. Members raised some objections, including that Detroit contractors would not receive priority consideration for the work, but generally voiced support for the plan.
A requirement that local contractors be given preference was eliminated by state lawmakers when they passed the bill late last month. After 45 days, the city has 90 days to transfer ownership to the new authority.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson could also throw up a roadblock to the measure, and was quoted in local media reports last week saying he would like to delay expansion to determine future needs of the auto show in light of the struggling U.S. automakers.
Under the legislation, Detroit would transfer ownership to the newly created authority with the power to sell bonds and collect tax revenue.
The five-member board would be made up of representatives from Detroit and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, and one member appointed by the governor. The makeup of the board was a lingering point of contention, and under the measure each member will have veto power.
The authority would pay Detroit $20 million for the center, money that the city will reportedly use to pay off outstanding bonds that paid for parking facilities at Cobo. Detroit would save an additional $15 million annually that it spends on operations for the center.
The Legislature extended Detroit regional hotel and motel taxes and statewide liquor taxes through 2039 to finance the expansion and operation. An additional $16 million would come from cigarette taxes, and the state plans to kick in $9 million.
Also last week, Granholm signed legislation that allows for the development of a light-rail line along a main Detroit thoroughfare, considered the first step in the development of rapid transit systems across Michigan.
The new law allows for nonprofit entities to construct and operate rail lines across the state and sets up special districts to divert tax revenue for operation of the systems.
"The most vibrant states are the ones that have a robust public transportation system, and this legislation is a historic step to take Michigan closer to having rapid transit systems starting in Detroit," Granholm said in a statement.