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Detroit automakers mulling helping DIA avoid bankruptcy looting

Tue, 13 May 2014 18:01:00 EST

It's not really a secret that the city of Detroit is in lots and lots of trouble. Even with an emergency manager working to guide it through bankruptcy, a number of the city's institutions remain in very serious danger. One of the most notable is the Detroit Institute of Arts, a 658,000-square-foot behemoth of art that counts works from Van Gogh, Picasso, Gauguin and Rembrandt (not to mention a version of Rodin's iconic "The Thinker," shown above) as part of its permanent collection.

Throughout the bankruptcy, the DIA has been under threat, with art enthusiasts, historians and fans of the museum concerned that its expansive collection – valued between $454 and $867 million by Christie's – could be sold by the city to help square its $18.5-billion debt.

Now, though, Detroit's hometown automakers could be set to step up and help save the renowned museum. According to a report from The Detroit News, the charitable arms of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler could be set to donate $25 million as part of a DIA-initiated campaign, called the "grand bargain." As part of the deal, the DIA would seek $100 million in corporate donations as part of a larger attempt at putting together an $816-million package that would be paid to city pension funds over 20 years. Such a move would protect the city's art collection from being sold off.

The charitable donation is still far from a done deal, though, largely because of legal complications inherent in such a large bankruptcy case. According to The DetNews, there's concern among business leaders approached by the DIA (which in addition to the automakers include utility provider DTE Energy, Roger Penske and Quicken Loans) that the entire project could fall apart if city lawmakers don't act on it quickly. Alternatively, the deal could crumble if plans put before the city's pensioners and unions ends up failing.

"Ford has been a long-time supporter of the DIA and its contributions to southeast Michigan. We are having confidential discussions with the DIA and are considering the matter very carefully," Ford spokesman Todd Nissen told The News.

"The DIA must be central to any plans for a revitalized Detroit. Both GM and the GM Foundation are giving careful consideration to how we can help preserve this treasure at such a critical time," GM spokesman Greg Martin said.

Chrysler issued a shorter statement, telling The Detroit News that it "is committed to playing a positive role in Detroit's revitalization. Accordingly, we are reviewing the DIA's request."

By Brandon Turkus

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