Burger King is having its way, thanks to Council Republicans, who unanimously approved the development at the opening session of the new City Council, Monday, April 8.
While there were a few new faces at the Council table, the Republicans still hold the edge, and voted in the site plan six to five, despite strong opposition from area residents and HRP and Democratic Councilpeople. The Burger King will be the primary tenant and major financial source for a 2 1/2 story, multi-purpose commercial building to be built in the now-vacant lot at Liberty and Maynard. It will be less than half a block from the previously approved McDonald's, soon to be built on Maynard between Liberty and Williams.
Mayor James Stephenson defended the plan, arguing that both the Planning Department and Planning Commission, who have "expertise" in these matters, had urged Council approval.
"A lot of time and money have been invested in this development," said Stephenson. "And the arguments about the quality of the food are just ridiculous."
Like the previous McDonald's site plan, the Burger King, officially known as the "Liberty Commercial Center." brought many protests at the Council's public hearing. The arguments ranged from traffic and litter, to the poor quality of food being served by the glut of fast-food chains now proposing to build in the area.
Michael Castleman, speaking for the Free People's Clinic, pointed to the lack of nutritional value of the usual hamburger and shake served by the fast-food corporations, and proceeded to produce the accused items from his black doctor's bag, to the amusement of Council and the audience.
A former Burger King employee, Greg Hebert, accused the fast-food chains of a "conspiracy" to grab the market and squeeze out profits. He told Council that first one, then another plastic national chain moves into an area driving out local restaurants. As the competition decreases to only plastic food-chains, the quality of the food at the Burger Kings and McDonald's declines.
"What you have left," he pointed out, "is a Washtenaw Avenue or Stadium Boulevard." Six years from now, the fast-foods will reign, and we'll have another Burger King ghetto."
Republican Lou Belcher laughed off the argument. If the problem gets out of hand, he proposed "a $5 penalty for the use or possession of Burger Kings."
Although the Republicans solidly backed the "Liberty Commercial Center," Burger King and all, the possibility exists that it still may not be built. The high costs of the development (the price for the land alone is reportedly the highest ever paid per square foot in the city) are only being partly financed by the Burger King corporation. The developer, Martin Brink, reported that he is still seeking additional funds, and may have to scrap the project if they are not found by early June. And if the money isn't available? Well, Burger King is dying to build in the area. If they can't put up a pretty office building, the city may yet find itself with a red, plastic home of the "Whopper."