Emerging Philanthropist Accused of “Flipping Off” Detroit

June 28, 2011; Source: Detroit Free Press | The Maroun Family of Detroit has just emerged as a new philanthropic presence there, raising some skepticism locally about their motives. The family says it has put its giving into high gear because of increased hardship in the community, but others feel like the sudden emergence of the Maroun’s onto the philanthropic scene has more to do with political positioning.

The family has been under fire for some years for “bad corporate citizenship” that revolves around its lack of upkeep of its local properties including the historic Michigan Central Station . Billionaire Manuel Maroun  also owns the Ambassador bridge to Canada which gives him the distinction of being the only individual to own a border crossing and is involved in a fight over a publicly funded bridge that would compete with it.

The suspicion is that the recent spate of grants from the company, such as $204,000 to the Community Health and Social Services Center in southwest Detroit and $1 million to University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods, were geared to gaining support for the Marouns’ opposition to the proposed public bridge.

Gregg Ward, manager of the Detroit-Windsor truck ferry was critical of Manuel Maroun’s stewardship of Michigan Central Station, which is said to be decaying as well as a number of other properties in the city. “One hand is patting him on the back for high-profile donations. The other is flipping off Detroit with his hundreds of derelict properties that he doesn’t invest in to improve,” Ward said.

Wayne County appears to believe that the Marouns’ Ambassador Bridge itself is out of compliance. Charities may appreciate the Marouns’ new organized approach to their charitable giving with the creation of the foundation, but the business side of the family also needs to function with community in mind.—Ruth McCambridge