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Federal, Detroit officials announce $300 million plan to aid city

DETROIT – Top Obama administration officials and local leaders on Friday unveiled a strategy to bring $300 million in federal and private-sector help to Detroit to fight blight, improve the city’s struggling bus system, boost public safety and encourage business growth in a city fighting for survival in bankruptcy court.

“We are listening,” said Gene Sperling, the head of President Obama’s National Economic Council. “We are going to do everything that we are capable of.”

Sperling was joined by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Attorney General Eric Holder, along with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Dave Bing and the city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr.

They spoke of a new level of federal commitment to helping the bankrupt city with new grant money in addition to money that had been committed to the city but that Detroit wasn’t able to receive because it lacked the ability to adequately manage grants. Some of the funding will help pay for technology and computer upgrades to help Detroit better handle grants for an array of public services.

The money will include $150 million for blight removal and redevelopment, including a $65 million block grant and $25 million in public and private funding to demolish vacant commercial buildings as well as $14 million for transit and $25 million to hire as many as 140 firefighters.

The money represents what the Obama administration can do – short of a politically impossible bailout – to help the city as it fights through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, with its debts and long-term liabilities reported to exceed $18 billion. The White House emphasized that the money is designed to gather existing resources to support efforts already under way to help revitalize the city and foster job growth.

Ahead of the meeting, the White House announced that Don Graves, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Treasury and executive director Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, will be the administration’s point person on the federal response to the financial crisis in Detroit.

Donovan, who was in Detroit a few weeks ago to announce federal funding for the demolition of Detroit’s Brewster Douglass project, said Obama’s administration is committed to helping Detroit recover. “We all believe this will be one of the great comeback stories in the history of American cities,” Donovan said.