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February 29, 2012

City Centre vision takes shape

By Jennie Miller
C & G Staff Writer

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Southfield Planning Director Terry Croad used examples of other downtown districts across the country that contain features the city would like to include in its vision of a City Centre.

SOUTHFIELD — Southfield City Planner Terry Croad laid out new concept plans for the long-desired City Centre district — a friendly, walkable retail and entertainment mecca off Evergreen, near the municipal complex — along with new partners in the endeavor before the Southfield City Council Feb. 27.

Croad was joined by members of the City Centre Advisory Board, and representatives from the Southfield Planning Commission, Lawrence Technological University and Mort Crim Communications, as well as Robert Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group in Birmingham, who was responsible for the meat of the presentation.

The City Centre is triangle-shaped and bounded by Evergreen, from 10 Mile to 11 Mile; Northwestern Highway, from 10 Mile to 11 Mile; and 11 Mile, from Evergreen to Northwestern, with the Southfield Municipal Complex and Lawrence Technological University included.

That area is just begging for redevelopment, Croad said, and the possibilities are astronomical.

“What we hope to do is create a vibrant, 24/7, pedestrian-friendly mixed-use environment,” Croad said. “It is approximately half a mile from Civic Center and Evergreen to the northern boundary of Lawrence Tech. (Within that half a mile) we currently have about 13,000 office workers that come here every day. Over 200,000 people visit our municipal complex between the Pavilion, Parks and Recreation, the library and municipal office on a yearly basis; the library estimates they have 2,000 to 2,500 visitors daily; Lawrence Tech has 4,000 students and 800 employees; ITT Tech is moving in. We have a great location that brings people through our corridor on a daily basis, and that’s not even including our residents.”

Planners envision a vibrant, walkable downtown district the likes of which would be comparable locally to Birmingham, Ferndale and Royal Oak. Retail would be on the first floor, office and residential above. Family oriented gathering places, outdoor seating, venues for special events, way-finding signage, focal points — like obelisks and clock towers — decorative lighting, extensive landscaping, street furniture, on-street parking and attractive parking structures, sculpture art, and water features would be included.

Lathrup Village has been working on a similar vision along the Southfield Road corridor.

Gibbs said that in his conservative estimation, there is potential for 645,000 square feet of retail space and 90-120 new businesses within Southfield’s City Centre boundaries, including department stores, grocery stores, home furnishing stores, office supply and gift shops, stores that sell apparel and shoes, electronics, sporting goods and books, pharmacy and drugstores, and up to 20-25 restaurants. There is also the potential for at least one business-class hotel, he said.

“The city of Southfield has all of the elements that most retailers are looking for today — (something) I wouldn’t have told you five years ago,” Gibbs said of how the economic downturn has completely changed the way retailers are strategically planning their locations. “You are in the very middle of a large metropolitan area. … Geographically, you are a five-10-minute drive to 5 million people.”

City Council President Joan Seymour said the plans for the City Centre have been under way since 1991. Five different proposals have come to the table, and none ever came to fruition, including one by Dan Gilbert prior to moving Quicken Loans to downtown Detroit, a missed opportunity, some might now say.

“This has been a dream of ours for many, many years,” Seymour said.

“There is this amazing piece of property in front of us,” Mayor Brenda Lawrence said, gesturing out the window of the Southfield Public Library, where the meeting was held. “It is exciting. It’s also visionary.”

The new plan is different than those in the past, Croad said, as this time around there is not simply a vision but also vital partnerships and a marketing plan — the advisory board recently hired Mort Crim Communications to develop a website, branding and marketing materials.

“This is a comprehensive, strategic approach,” he said. “This will only work if we work together as partners — both the public and private sector, as well as the universities and our residents.”

Southfield City Councilman asked Croad what he sees as the city’s biggest challenge to achieving this vision.

“We have met the enemy, and it is us,” Croad said. “We are always the biggest roadblock. But if we can work together — if we can overcome any past prejudices, past plans, past limitations that we’ve put on ourselves — if we can work together, I think we can get this accomplished.”

The City Centre Advisory Board, formed two decades ago, comprises seven major stakeholders from within the City Centre boundaries — including Douglas Etkin of Etkin Equities Inc., Craig Willian of Redico, Hassan Jawad of Tower Computer Services, Paula Goldman-Spinner of Schostak Bros. & Co., Stefan Stration of Pomeroy Health Inc., Kimberly Heslep of Blackstone Property Group and Linda Height of Lawrence Tech — one citizen liaison, Ken Peterson of 5000 Town Center and the mayor.

The board meets bi-monthly to discuss the evolution of the redevelopment initiative and oversee the finances of the special assessment district, which collects 2 percent per square foot of nonresidential space, bringing in approximately $130,000 a year, Croad said.

That money goes toward special events like the Eat to the Beat lunchtime concert series, professional services, Central Park Boulevard landscaping, and now urban design and pedestrian amenities.

For more information about Gibbs Planning Group, visit www.gibbsplanning.com.

Call Staff Writer Jennie Miller at (586) 279-1108. Become a fan of the Southfield Sun on Facebook at www.facebook.com/southfieldsun or follow Jennie Miller on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenniexmiller.