DETROIT — A former Detroit university professor is pledging $5 million, hoping it will spark a wildfire of private financial support to protect valuable art from being sold to pay creditors in the city’s bankruptcy.
A. Paul Schaap said he wants to help the Detroit Institute of Arts as well as retirees whose pensions could be cut as part of the city’s plan to eventually exit Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Art purchased over the years with city money could be pursued as assets that should be sold to pay off a portion of $18 billion in long-term debt.
Schaap and wife Carol want to prevent that from happening.
“I believe there are more than just a few people in the metro Detroit area who would step up and see this as something we should all try to do to save the pensions and stabilize the DIA,” Schaap said in an interview Friday.
Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr hasn’t said whether he will sell art as part of any bankruptcy reorganization plan. New York auction house Christie’s said art purchased with city money is worth $450 million to $870 million. It’s 5 percent of all art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“We have a passion for the city,” said Schaap, who lives next door in Grosse Pointe Park and was a Wayne State University chemistry professor before starting his own technology company. “We go to the DIA, the symphony, ballgames. We’re Detroiters. Maybe this is a way to help.”
Schaap, 68, said he was meeting Friday with U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is serving as chief mediator between the city and its creditors while the bankruptcy case moves forward. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press have reported that Rosen has reached out to foundations and wealthy people to try to raise as much as $500 million to protect the museum and assist pensioners.
Schaap said he read about Rosen’s effort and decided to step forward, becoming one of the first to publicly make a pledge. The judge and others in the philanthropic community have declined to comment, although Orr this week said he “fully supports” Rosen’s pitch to potential donors.
“I’ve already heard from people who can’t give that much but want to contribute,” Schaap said, referring to his $5 million. “We will be looking for a mechanism to make that possible.”
Short of cash, Detroit has been relying on deep pockets to meet critical needs. Mayor Dave Bing delivered the last of 23 new ambulances Thursday, all paid for by companies or foundations. One hundred new police cars also are being given to the city.