Detroit debt: What can city art & property pay for?

By Eli Epstein of MSN News with wire reports | Reuters Photo: Rebecca Cook
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How bankruptcy might affect Detroit's assets

Detroit, faced with bankruptcy and a huge debt, is having its artwork as well as city property assessed. What will these pieces of art and properties pay for? See gallery

Since Detroit filed for bankruptcy on July 18, appraisers have descended on the city to assess everything from artwork at the Detroit Museum of Art to municipal properties and services as possible properties to sell to help offset an $18 billion debt.

While Detroit's emergency manager Kevyn Orr says that he has no immediate plans to sell any of the art in the museum, Christie's auction house has been called in to appraise a number of works in the 60,000-piece collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The following are seven esteemed works from the DIA and various other city properties and services that have been rumored to be up for grabs should the city decide to pay off debt by selling them. They each could bring millions of dollars into the city and possibly help pay for more police officers, EMT drivers and even help keep the lights lit on city streets that are dark now.


Detroit Institute of Arts
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'The Thinker,' Auguste Rodin

About: "The Thinker" is Auguste Rodin's best-known work and an icon of both French and global sculpture, according to certified independent appraiser Deborah Gerstler Spanierman. The figure was part of a larger commission based on Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy." It is also one of Detroit's most revered and beloved works.

Worth: A different cast of "The Thinker" sold for $15 million at auction in May, Spanierman told MSN News.

What that money could mean for Detroit: A 2011 estimate by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that Detroit pays $15,570 per public school student annually. By that estimation, a sale of the "The Thinker" could cover one year's education costs for almost 963 students.

Detroit Institute of Arts
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'Cotopaxi,' Edwin Frederic Church

About: Church, an American, painted the 7-foot "Cotopaxi" in 1862 during the Civil War. Its fiery images are thought by many to represent the chaos that was ensuing around him.

Worth:The Detroit Free Press estimated that "Cotopaxi" is worth $70 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: "Cotopaxi" could pay for the salary of approximately 2,120 police officers whose starting salary in the city is $33,000. Detroit has the highest crime rate of any major city and its police officers take nearly an hour to respond to calls, the Wall Street Journal reported.



Detroit Institute of Arts
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'The Wedding Dance,' Pieter Bruegel the Elder

About: "The Wedding Dance" is part of a Bruegel series that examines the nuances and happiness of peasants, in contrast to the many paintings throughout time that have celebrated society's upper-crust.

Worth: The Detroit Free Press estimated that "The Wedding Dance" is worth $100 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: $160 million is needed to fix Detroit's decrepit streetlights, Bloomberg reported. Of the city's 88,000 lights, 40 percent are broken. As many as 15,000 use 1920s technology, according to an assessment by McKinsey & Co.

Detroit Institute of Arts
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'Saint Jerome in His Study,' Jan van Eyck

About: Painted by Flemish painter Jan van Eyck around 1435, "Saint Jerome in His Study" captures Saint Jerome's intellectual devotion and tells his story. He is said to have plucked a thorn from the palm of a lion, which remained loyal to him after.

Worth: The Detroit Free Press estimated that this van Eyck is worth $50 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: From 2011-2012, a Detroit public school teacher made, on average, $57,000, according to the Michigan Department of Education. Selling "Saint Jerome in His Study" at the Free Press' estimated price would equal the salaries of nearly 877 Detroit teachers.

Detroit Institute of Arts
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'In the Garden," Mary Cassatt

About: Famed impressionist Mary Cassatt works rarely hit the market, Spanierman told MSN News. The artist, who was born in America but lived primarily in France, drew heavily on themes of childhood and motherhood. The Detroit Institute of Art's 1904 work "In the Garden" displays both.

Worth: Another Cassatt oil painting sold for $2.5 million at auction in 2013, Spanierman said.

What that money could mean for Detroit: A Cassatt worth $2.5 million could pay for 25 new ambulances in Detroit, which only has 10-14 working vehicles on a given day, according to Reuters. A new ambulance costs around $100,000.

Detroit Institute of Arts
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'On the Beach,' Eduoard Manet

About: "While the subject of "On the Beach" has undeniable market appeal, it also is a terrific example of the artist moving from Realism into the spontaneous open air style of the Impressionists," Colleene Fesko, principal at Colleene Fesko Fine Art and Antiques, told MSN News.

Worth: An 1878 self-portrait by Manet sold for $33 million at auction in 2010, according to Fesko. "Manet's work is both rare and highly desirable (the artist died at 51) and does not appear with any regularity on the auction market," she said.

What that money could mean to Detroit: There are nearly 80,000 abandoned buildings in Detroit, and they each will cost about $9,000 to demolish, according to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. A Manet painting worth $33 million would represent over 3,500 homes the city could tear down. Furthermore, 80 percent of fires in Detroit start in abandon buildings, Forbes reported. Fewer derelict properties would seemingly relieve an overburdened and diminished fire department.

Detroit Institute of Arts
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'The Dreams of Men,' Tintoretto

About: Tintoretto's "The Dreams of Men" is a centerpiece at the DIA, hanging from its ceiling. The painting is emblazoned with representations of heaven and fortune and features Saturn and Cupid.

Worth:  The Free Press estimated that "The Dreams of Men" is worth $100 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: Detroit owes $135 million worth of retiree benefits, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Detroit Institute of Arts
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'Self-Portrait,' Vincent van Gogh

About: This is the first Van Gogh painting to enter a public museum in America, according to the Detroit Free Press. The Dutchman often painted self-portraits to improve his craft.

Worth: Van Gogh paintings have attracted some of the highest auction prices, according to Spanierman. The Free Press estimated that "Self-Portrait" is worth $60 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: Detroit owes the police and fire department retirement system over $50 million, according to the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.


Detroit Institute of Arts
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'Double Self-Portrait,' Andy Warhol

About: Andy Warhol, a pre-eminent modern artist and iconoclast, painted a number of self-portraits. In many he's outwardly aggressive; here he's stoic and pensive.

Worth: The Free Press estimated that the "Double Self-Portrait" is worth $80 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: In 2010-2011, Detroit paid out $23.5 million to its public works employees, according to its Executive Budget Summary. For the city, $80 million represents around 3.5 years of salary for its Department of Public Works.

Detroit Institute of Arts
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'The Window,' Henri Matisse

About: French artist Henri Matisse often used windows and home interiors as a lens to see the world through.

Worth: The Free Press estimated that "The Window" is worth $150 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: It will cost $49 million to run Detroit's libraries this year, according to the city's executive budget summary. At this rate, "The Window" could pay for Detroit's libraries for three years.

Reuters Photo: Rebecca Cook, File
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Detroit & Windsor Tunnel

About: Built in 1930, the Windsor Tunnel helps connects Detroit and Ontario, Canada. It's the second busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing and it sees around 27,000 commuters every day. It is co-owned by the cities of Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit.

Worth: In 2010, city officials, floating a possible sale of Detroit's half, said the stretch of tunnel might be worth around $100 million, the Detroit Free Press reported.

What that money could mean for Detroit: According to a 2012 Rolling Stone report, there could be as many as 50,000 canines wandering the streets of Detroit. And part of the problem is the city’s troubled animal shelter. New animal shelters aren’t cheap, either. A state-of-the-art center in Berkeley, Calif., cost $12 million this year. Selling the Detroit side of the Windsor tunnel could help provide funds to set up more animal shelters in the city.

AP Photo: Paul Sancya, File
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Belle Isle Park

About: Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the creator of New York's Central Park, Belle Isle Park has been owned by Detroit since 1879. It sits on almost 1,000 acres in the Detroit River and features an aquarium, a conservatory, a museum and open recreation space.

Worth: This year, developer Rod Lockwood developed a proposal to buy the park from Detroit for $1 billion so it could be turned into a Libertarian, tax-free commonwealth. In 2000, Mackinac Center for Public Policy director of fiscal policy Michael LaFaive estimated the park was worth $370 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: Detroit badly needs to rebuild its downtown areas and turn them into a attractions both for locals and tourists. A new Red Wings stadium could be on the way in addition to new retail and commercial space as part of a massive development plan. That multibillion-dollar idea needs public money as well as private. Selling Belle Isle Park to a private developer could help Detroit grow other parts of the city.

Reuters Photo: Molly Riley
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Detroit's valuable antique car collection

About: In addition to valuable art, the Motor City also owns a fleet of cherished antique cars housed at the Detroit Historical Museum: a 1963 Ford XD Cobra, a 1963 Ford Cougar II and a 1963 Chrysler Turbine.

Worth: Each car, according to USA Today, is worth nearly $1 million.

What that money could mean for Detroit: Private investors and the federal government have pledged $125 million to a light rail project in Detroit. Still, the city needs around $15 million more to complete the system. Selling the cars could help close that finance gap.

Getty Images
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Detroit's public utilities and services

About: In the early part of the millennium, Michael LaFaive drafted a policy report to divest and outsource many city-owned services in Detroit, including police services, trash pickup, bus lines and water and sewage management.


  • The Mackinac Center estimated that Detroit could save $6.4 million annually if it contracted out some of its garbage collection services.
  • LaFaive estimated that Detroit could save nearly $50 million annually if it contracted out some of its water services. If it were to sell the system entirely, Detroit could make between $1.8 billion and $2.3 billion, LaFaive estimated.
  • If Detroit used competitively franchised or contracted buses, it could save more than $60 million annually, Mackinac wrote.
  • A potential sale of the Detroit Public Lighting Department could bring between $300 million and $500 million, according to Mackinac.
  • Just by contracting out the oil changes on 500 Detroit Police Department vehicles, the city could save almost $850,000 annually, Mackinac reported.



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