Magic Johnson-backed state fairgrounds redevelopment moves forward

    Magic Johnson
    Earvin "Magic" Johnson in 2014 | Ashley Velez, Wikimedia Commons

    The long-vacant Michigan State Fairgrounds on the border between Detroit and Oakland County could soon see new life.

    On Monday morning, the state’s Land Bank Fast Track Authority announced that it had closed on a deal with real estate firm Magic Plus LLC to acquire 16 acres of the disused fairground. The city of Detroit, meanwhile, is expected to close later this month on the property’s remaining 142 acres.

    A mural showing Magic Johnson
    A mural portraying Magic Johnson in Detroit | Ken Harden, Flickr

    Magic Plus LLC, which is owned by basketball legend and Lansing native Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Joel Ferguson, a Lansing real estate developer and Michigan State University trustee, paid $472,646 for its portion. The company is expected to redevelop the portion as part of a “comprehensive development project.”

    The city’s portion of the site is expected to cost $7 million upon closing.

    “I’m proud of the collaborative work we’ve done with Magic Plus and the City of Detroit to bring new jobs and economic opportunities to the community,” Michigan Land Bank Director Josh Burgett said in a statement.

    “The State Fairgrounds is one of the largest developable properties in Detroit and we’re excited for the economic prosperity this brings to their community and Michigan taxpayers.”

    Ferguson said the company is “excited to be a part of Detroit’s continued economic renaissance and community revitalization.”

    It’s unclear what the city might do with its portion of the site, but it “will explore different development options to ensure the project creates real economic opportunities for Detroiters as well as ensuring the project benefits the surrounding neighborhoods,” according to a statement.  

    A building on the Michigan state fairground
    The Coliseum and Agricultural Building at the Michigan state fairground in 2008 | Andrew Jameson, Wikimedia Commons

    The site hosted the Michigan State Fair from 1905 until 2009 when it was shuttered during the Great Recession, and has sat mostly unused since that time.

    “We are pleased to see this deal with Magic Plus close, as it paves the way for the redevelopment of this strategically located Woodward Avenue property,” Tom Lewand, the city of Detroit’s group executive for jobs and economic growth, said in a statement. “We also look forward to closing on the city’s purchase of the other 142 acres of the State Fairgrounds property in the next several weeks.”

    Nick Manes
    Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.


    1. I’m still ticked that the state shut the State Fair down. Bringing the country to the city was a noble goal. And if you ever want to see a REAL state fair, head to St. Paul for the Great Minnesota Get-Together the two weeks before Labor Day. American kitsch and harvest time fun at its best.


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