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Michigan township braces for Trump rally: ‘we don’t have another option’

Donald Trump
Washington Township’s planning and zoning director said organizers for the Trump Rally had not given the township much of a choice as it braces for thousands of attendees. (Bridge file photo)

April 23: Michigan GOP endorses Trump favorites DePerno, Karamo at convention
April 12: Trump favorite Matt DePerno back in court, seeks another Antrim County audit
April 3: Donald Trump returns to Michigan to back his candidates, prepare for ‘24

MACOMB COUNTY— A Michigan town is bracing for thousands of Donald Trump supporters at a rally planned for Saturday without much notice or available parking. 

Washington Township, which is in west Macomb County, will hold a third Trump rally at the Michigan Stars Sports Center, a building for sports teams to practice that is not authorized to hold entertainment events because of its capacity limits. Township officials say they’re uncomfortable with the rally and its precedence for future events.

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The former president is holding the rally at 7 p.m. April 2 to support Michigan attorney general candidate Matt DePerno and secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo, both of whom he has endorsed.

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The rally is three weeks before the Michigan Republican Party convention when precinct delegates will vote to endorse a nominee for attorney general, secretary of state and other down-ticket races that will not be on the ballot in the August primary. 

Township officials say there are several issues, such as the uncertainty around the size of the crowd Trump will draw and the lack of available parking. 

The sports center’s maximum occupant load, the number of people that can safely exit a building during an emergency, is 5,760. More than 15,000 people attended a Trump rally at that venue in 2018; the inside of the sports center was packed, and the rest of the attendees rallied outside. 

Washington Township Fire Chief Brian Tyrell addressed the township’s board of trustees on Monday when it voted 4-1 to approve three additional areas for parking. 

“We’re starting to see a pattern here of allowing this building for this use that was never approved,” Tyrell told trustees. “At some point, we just can’t allow this to happen because (we) don’t allow it to happen (any other day of the year).”

If the rally’s organizers had followed the township’s protocols and applied for a special event permit, Tyrell said he would have reviewed and denied it because the building couldn’t support this large of a gathering. 

“But we’re not in that position today,” Tyrell said. 

Despite some township officials’ concerted effort to stop the rally, Township Planning and Zoning Director Dana Berschback said their hands are tied, and the event will go on. 

“Unfortunately, as it has been presented to us, (the rally’s organizers) haven’t given us an option. This event is going to happen,” Berschback said. “All we can do is show up and hand them over a $500 ticket. How are we going to manage to shut it down? We can’t.”

Township officials are severely concerned because the number of people attending the event is uncertain and there is not a lot of space for parking. 

George Juncaj, the Michigan Stars Sports Center owner, told Bridge he’s not sure how many people will attend the Trump rally. 

“I don’t know how many people are going to be here because it’s not my business to ask,” Juncaj said. “They’re renting a place from us. I can’t ask them something like that.”

Juncaj said he doesn’t believe there is an issue with holding the Trump rally at his sports center. 

“Everybody’s working together. Everybody’s supporting each other. Everything’s going to be all right,” Juncaj told Bridge. “We let this happen twice before and never was there an issue. I think it’s going to be great.”

Berschback said the 2018 rally was organized well, but parking was a mess. 

At the time, when parking filled up, people reverted to leaving their cars wherever they could. Berschback said some people were parking across a stretch of M-53 and crossing the highway on foot where the speed limit is 70 mile per hour.

Berschback said this rally’s parking situation could be even messier because the township has sold a substantial amount of the land used for parking during previous rallies. 

“Private property owners are being paid to allow for some parking on their land, but most of that land is farmed or being developed,” Berschback said. “Hopefully (the parking) doesn’t destroy whatever investment they have in the land or what’s being farmed.”

There are safety concerns regarding the land being developed because of the open trenches dug up to install water main pipes, according to Berschback. 

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“There were some concerns from contractors because they weren’t anticipating thousands of people walking through active construction sites,” Berschback said. “Hopefully, weather permitting, they’ll safely secure those sites.

“It’s a very uncomfortable position that the property owner puts the township in when it comes to this,” she said.

The township is currently discussing with STAR transportation to run shuttles between parking lots at Romeo High School and a former Kmart store, which would provide an additional 900 parking spaces. 

According to the township, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department will have extra personnel on hand and will set up barriers to help with traffic. 

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