Detroit's Donald Trump Is Buying Up Small Lots Across the City

It's good to have cash and a shrewd ability to spot a deal in a downturn. Just ask Manuel Moroun, a businessman who has become the Detroit area's biggest private landowner. Moroun owns an estimated 600-plus parcels of real estate scattered across Michigan's Wayne County, which includes the city of Detroit -- much of which he snapped up at bargain basement prices.

His name is not as well known as Donald Trump, but Manuel "Matty" Moroun is clearly a landed force to be reckoned with in his home state.

Since 2006, Moroun has purchased roughly 200 properties according to the Detroit Free Press, many of them at the yearly county auction of tax-foreclosed properties. Moroun buys in bulk, often paying just the minimum bid of $500 a parcel. Most of the purchases are small residential lots, around 30 by 100 feet, or vacant lots, often in blighted areas.

So who is this dude and how come he doesn't have his own TV show like that other real estate mogul?

Moroun actually could not be more different. The reclusive 82-year old Arab-American businessman recently ranked 321 on Forbes' list of wealthiest Americans. But unlike Trump whose real estate dad, Fred, handed the young Donald his empire on a silver platter, Moroun grew up poor in Detroit, according to Forbes, where he pumped gas as a teen.

He wanted to be a doctor, he told Corp! Magazine last year in a rare interview, but was not able to get into med school. So he ended up working for his dad's trucking company, which set him on the road to being a man who knows a thing or two -- or 600 -- about real estate investments.

Oh, and he knows something about bridges too. He happens to own the Ambassador Bridge, over which one-fourth of all commerce between the United States and Canada flows. It is one of the few privately owned border points in the country.

According to the Detroit Free Press article, "no private owner appears to own anywhere near the number of parcels (of real estate) as Moroun" -- although others may own larger total acreage than he does.

So what does he plan to do with all of those little lots? Moroun is a controversial figure in his home state, but he's not just looking to make a quick buck on his property. Instead, he told the Free Press, he hopes his accumulation of real estate can eventually be put to productive use and contribute to Detroit's revitalization.

No doubt many residents hope that is the case.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has written about real estate related issues for several years.
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