DETROIT - State-appointed Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr has a message for the city's creditors: Get on the bus and take a look at the gravity of the city's blight and decay.
Orr plans to take about 25 bankers on a tour next week of some of Detroit's hardest-hit areas, including the largely abandoned Brightmoor neighborhood on the city's far west side.
"If they can see what it's like for Detroiters, what they endure every day in this city, I think they'll begin to understand what's at stake," Orr told reporters Wednesday. "Imagine what it's like to be a mother riding that bus with no air conditioning, that shows up late and takes an hour and a half to get you where you need to go."
Orr, a bankruptcy expert, was hired by the state in March to take over control of Detroit's finances. The city is running a $380 million deficit this year, and Orr has said long-term debt could top $17 billion.
The city that had 1.8 million people in the middle of the last century is down to about 700,000 mostly low-income residents today. Besides a loss of tax base, it has gone through a string of corruption scandals that have sent former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former City Council Member Monica Conyers to prison.
Wielding the threat of a bankruptcy filing, Orr has asked for sharp concessions from unions representing current and retires municipal workers. And he has asked bondholders to accept steep markdowns on what they're owed.
Orr stopped paying Detroit's unsecured creditors in mid-June and seeks to settle their $11.4 billion in claims with about $2 billion.
Next Wednesday's bus tour is designed to impress on creditors the dire state of the city, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press report. The bankers will ride a city bus, not a charter.
"See what these neighborhoods look like, what you travel through and go home to every day," Orr said. "I think people don't really believe it when I describe it. Even my friends in Washington say it can't be as dire as what I'm describing. But it is."
Douglas Bernstein, a Bloomfield Hills municipal bankruptcy law expert, said the bus tour is a creative idea but said he is skeptical of its success.
"It's a novel approach. I'll give him that," Bernstein said. "You do not make business decisions based on emotion. If I'm a creditor, I'm looking at numbers, not a tour of the city."