Skip to content

Former Detroit emergency manager praises philanthropic role in ‘Grand Bargain’ that helped resolve financial crisis


During a session at the Council on Foundations annual meeting in San Francisco, Kevyn Orr reflected on his duties as the city of Detroit’s emergency manager and discussed the role philanthropy played in the successful resolution of Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy. The hour-long session, “Making Our Hardest Cities Whole Again: Lessons From Detroit and Beyond,” was hosted by Rip Rapson, Kresge’s president and chief executive officer.

Before an audience of philanthropic professionals from across the country this week, Orr described the financial obligations the city had amassed prior to his appointment by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in 2013. Orr discussed his responsibilities: Reduce long-term debt while ensuring the ability of the city to make investments in municipal services after resolution. 

“No other city in America has traveled this path,” Rapson said in his introduction. “Over 18 months, [Orr] delivered a strategy of approaches with the level of skill, integrity and long-term commitment to the city that changed forever the trajectory of our community.”

Orr and Rapson also navigated the audience through the complex plan that softened the impact of the city’s bankruptcy on pensioners and safeguarded cultural assets at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Known as the Grand Bargain, the plan created a fund supported through more than $800 million in contributions from the philanthropic community, state of Michigan and DIA. 

Orr praised Kresge and others in the philanthropic community for the unprecedented unity to contribute $366 million – 44 percent – to the fund, calling the actions “a profile in courage … to stand for what was right.”

Listen to the dialogue.