It is a Land Grab — but what does that mean? – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

It is a Land Grab — but what does that mean?

Listen to this piece on Michigan radio!

When accused of doing a “land grab” with his project on the east side, John Hantz didn’t deny the accuser. “It is a land grab. You can’t farm without land,” Mr. Hantz said.

For years and years, with many projects, Detroiters have been subject to the mercy of developers who can come in and do what they want with a land grab. Many times, these developers leave the areas they come into worse than they found them. It seems that either the project runs out of money, the developer finds a better project, or the developer just didn’t consider what was good for the surrounding community when implementing the project.

John Hantz has been working on the Hantz Farms project for four years, after city council approved the sale of 2,000 parcels of land to the wealthy businessman in 2012. But Hantz wants more. There is more land in and around the currently Hantz-owned land that Hantz would like to purchase to become part of Hantz Farms. But he is met with resistance.

It makes sense that there is a distrust of wealthy white business owners, given the history of badly planned development by millionaires in the city. But after four years on the project, and 25 years living in the city of Detroit, I believe that Hantz has proved himself and should be given more freedom with his project.

I believe this for a couple of reasons.

First, Mr. Hantz is a resident of Detroit. The reason he says that he initiated this project is because he was tired of 20 years of hoping others — the government, community orgs, other businessman — would help the city. As a resident he became frustrated at the lack of progress that was going on, even though there is so much opportunity for such progress to occur. That’s why he wanted to take responsibility himself, rather than putting the parcels in a land trust that is shared amongst the community. He believes that the leadership of one person can beautify the area.

In particular, I was struck by one woman in the trailer for the new film “Land Grab” by Sean O’Grady, who was upset because she thought she owned a parcel of land near Hantz Farms, and it turned out that the city had sold it to Hantz without her knowing. She was clearly and understandably frustrated. But the filmmaker O’Grady said to her, ‘He lives just over there, you should go talk to him, I’m sure he would be happy to hear your concerns.’

Mr. Hantz has been working on the project in the community for 4 years now, and he has made substantial effort to interact with the community (a community he is very familiar with).

Another difference between Mr. Hantz and previous developers is that it is all Mr. Hantz’s money. The money is not public trust money — it is $7 million out of Mr. Hantz’s pocket. Which means that Hantz will not drop this project and run anytime soon. He is in it for the long haul.

In four years, the project has helped level 50 blighted homes (without using taxpayer dollars) and started to beautify the area. Yet, like this article notes, unlike other businessmen like Gilbert and Penske in their projects, Hantz is receiving substantial resistance from the city. The reason for this resistance is unclear, but the new film “Land Grab”  attempts to uncover this reason.

I think this is a very interesting project and I will be following it to see what ends up happening. What I hope does not happen, is a battle of community versus businessman. I think O’Grady sums it up the point of his film well at the end of this article:

“For me, it really came down to that people shouldn’t let their ideologies or their politics get in the way of progress,” O’Grady said. “In a city like Detroit, there’s room for a lot of ideas to be tried out and to explore ideas from people with different viewpoints.”


2 thoughts on “It is a Land Grab — but what does that mean?”

  1. I remember you telling me about this in the dorm yesterday. It’s great to read more on this, so thanks for the detailed post! As usual, the one and only Cole Zingas! delivers.

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