LeDuff Off the Chain: Is Chip the gorilla for sale? - FOX 35 News Orlando

LeDuff Off the Chain: Is Chip the gorilla for sale?

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One of the western lowland gorillas at the Detroit Zoo's Great Apes of Harambee exhibit. One of the western lowland gorillas at the Detroit Zoo's Great Apes of Harambee exhibit.

Off the Chain Opinion

By Charlie LeDuff, FOX 2 News

HUNTINGTON WOODS, Mich. (WJBK) – I'd love to have a gorilla. Then I could have people over and say "Hey, check out my gorilla."

He could wear an apron and serve crudités and cocktails. He could chase away the squirrels. I could train him to wash my Cadillac.

So how much Detroit? How much for Chip the Silverback?

The DIA and its art collection are in the news, but don't forget the city's other jewels: the zoo and Belle Isle.  And the Detroit Zoo – located in Huntington Woods but also an asset of the city of Detroit – could hypothetically be part of a potential fire sale to balance the city's books.

"Everything is under consideration," said Bill Nowling, the spokesman for Emergency Manager Kevin Orr. "But the zoo is not currently in the conversation."

Why? Because the zoo wouldn't bring that much money. The property is prime but animals don't fetch much.

Masterpiece artworks do. 

But according to Nowling, the whole debate over the DIA's artwork has been blown out of proportion. Nowling said that Orr simply asked of the DIA -- months ago – to come up with a financial plan that would show the museum is a money maker for the city as a way to protect it from the creditors who want to be paid. A goose that lays eggs so to speak.

"We don't have any intention to sell the art," Nowling told me.  "We merely have a responsibility to show that all the city's assets are rational and are providing a value back to the city. That's what the creditors are going to ask us."

But instead of coming up with a plan, the museum ran to the media, Nowling contends.

Not so, says Graham Beal, director of the DIA. He says Orr began making overtures about a month ago and when he did, he suggested that the museum come up with $20 million a year to help pay off the city's debts.

Interestingly enough, suburbanites voted last November to tax their homes to help keep the DIA afloat. Those revenues are expected to be somewhere around…wait for it…$20 million.

"He raised the puzzling notion that the museum could help the city with bankruptcy," Beal said of Orr. "Frankly, we don't think it's possible."

Nor probably, would the suburban taxpayer go for paying Detroit's bills with a financial end around.

Though Orr did not threaten to sell of the artwork, Beal said, the implication was there. 

Whomever you believe, one thing is certain: the day of reckoning has come.  Detroit is broke. Its creditors want to be paid. That is not the fault of Gov. Snyder or Mr. Orr or Director Beal. It is the fault of Detroit's failed leadership who over the years stole, wasted, dithered, bickered, overspent and borrowed to do it. It was they who took the city's jewels to the pawnshop as collateral.

Ask yourself: why didn't the DIA spin itself off into a non-profit foundation that would have protected it from a potential municipal bankruptcy? Because Detroit's leaders wouldn't go for it.

"Politically it was impossible," Beal said. "Anyone who thinks the City of Detroit would given up ownership of the collections just needs to look at the Belle Isle fracas," he said.

It's worth noting there is a $2.5 million line item in the governor's budget for Belle Isle; a deal that couldn't get done when there was an actual democracy in Detroit. And if, I'm reading the public mood correctly, citizens of Detroit prefer more to see cops than Cezanne.  But touch Belle Isle and you've got a fight.

And if there's a fight, I'm bringing the gorilla.

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