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City to offer $1.05 million for transit center land

April 15, 2014

» click to enlarge «
The Troy Transit Center is finished and awaits opening until legal issues are resolved.
The 90-foot pedestrian bridge extends from the property in Troy to the train tracks in Birmingham.

The mayor of Troy and the owner of the property the Troy Transit Center sits on are meeting to talk informally after City Council authorized an offer of $1.05 million and to move forward with eminent domain proceedings if the offer is rejected.

The offer to Grand Sakwa was based on a recent appraisal. The council unanimously approved a resolution April 7 authorizing Peter Webster of Dickinson Wright, the outside legal counsel the city retained in the matter, to make a good-faith offer for the parcel and initiate the condemnation process through the courts if the offer is rejected.

Troy Mayor Dane Slater said that he phoned Gary Sakwa, owner of Grand Sakwa, and the men agreed to meet with the understanding that the discussions would be nonbinding.

“We’re just talking,” Slater said. “I did call him. Some people I respect thought I should do that.” He said he’s met with Sakwa twice, and planned to meet with him last week.

“I listened to his concerns,” Slater said. He said those concerns include traffic through the mixed-use center at the site, which he said city administrators thought would be easy to address.

“Our concerns are his concerns — that there is no negative impact on the shopping plaza. His development is an asset. The transit center is an asset, which will not negatively impact his development. It’s not serving anybody sitting there empty.”

Slater said he’s a realist, and if the case proceeds to court, “it still doesn’t mean we can’t have a good relationship going forward. There’s an open dialogue.”

Sakwa couldn’t be reached for comment.

City Engineer Steve Vandette said the construction work on the transit center was complete in late October. The transit center includes a 2,000-square-foot-building with a waiting area and public restrooms, an elevator, a 90-foot pedestrian bridge from the building to the tracks, a crash wall, enhancements to the Amtrak platform, slips for taxis and buses, and designated parking on the Troy side. 

The developer, Grand/Sakwa Properties, had donated 2.7 acres of the total 77-acre mixed-use commercial and residential property at Maple and Coolidge to the city of Troy on the condition that Troy would develop the land for use as a transportation center. The consent agreement — dated June 2, 2000 — also required that the city fund the center within 10 years of the date of judgment, which an appeals court ruled never happened.

On Feb. 21, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman denied the city’s request for the title to the land.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm explained that the judge dismissed the case, in which Troy filed eminent domain to take the property without consent of Grand Sakwa in the interest of the public for the transit center, without prejudice, which allows the city, with approval from the City Council, to file proceedings with the court for eminent domain at a later date.

Alan Greene, attorney for Grand Sakwa, could not be reached for comment.

Grigg Bluhm told the council that the $1.05 million offer for the property would qualify as part of the $8.4 million in federal funding approved for the project.

The Amtrak lease was expected to cover maintenance costs, which were not available at press time.

The city was working on a lease with Amtrak, needed before the transit center could open for operation, which Grigg Bluhm said would likely not occur until the property issue is resolved.

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Henderson, who opposed the transit center in the past, said that he is a firm supporter of the transit center going forward.

“We need to own the property,” he said. He added that the city is dangerously close to using up all of the money the Michigan Department of Transportation — which administers the federal funding — has authorized. “I am not in support of dipping into the Troy city general fund. I fully support this item, knowing we need to take the next step.”

“We just have to do this,” said Councilman Doug Tietz. He said he feared that if the city didn’t purchase the land, the taxpayers could be responsible for the construction costs. “We have to deal with reality right now,” he said.

“We have a beautiful center,” said Council member Ellen Hodorek. “We have to make it a success.

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