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May 17, 2013

Developer has big plans for Eastpointe's Colonial Dodge site

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

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Eastpointe City Council approved the $600,000 sale of the Colonial Dodge lots on the east and west sides of Gratiot, at Stephens, at the May 8 regular meeting.

EASTPOINTE — The now vacant Colonial Dodge lots at Gratiot and Stephens could become a focal point for the city in the near future.

At the May 8 regular meeting, City Council unanimously authorized the $600,000 cash sale of the properties to a local developer, who has a vision of demolishing and rebuilding and/or remodeling the structures to meet the needs of some of their long-standing national retailer and restaurateur clients.

Farmington Hills-based developer JB Donaldson Company plans to proceed with demolition of the site on the west side of Gratiot within the next 60-90 days. Plans for the site on the east side of Gratiot aren’t set in stone yet, but the company laid out a variety of potential uses for the site prior to the sale.

In documents obtained by C & G Newspapers, the JB Donaldson Company said it was looking into the possibility of purchasing properties neighboring the east property to create a larger development suitable for a variety of business options — upscale car dealerships, banking or retail, to name a few.

“They’re still open to conversations about the east side and they like the idea of a brewpub or something like that, but it has to be right for the development,” said City Manager Steve Duchane.

According to sale documents, the developer is already in negotiations with “billion dollar restaurant and retail chains” for the property on the west side of Gratiot.

Exactly what restaurants or retail stores they are negotiating with has not been released, but JB Donaldson has a history of working with Starbucks, Game Stop, Great Clips, Vitamin Shoppe, Penn Station Subs, Coldwell Banker, Huntington Bank, various medical groups and a variety of manufacturing businesses.

JB Donaldson Company is keeping a tight lip on the negotiation process. Even the city isn’t in on it.

“Our practice here is what we know, we tell you — so we told them, don’t tell us if you don’t want us to tell,” Duchane said, adding that the city no longer owns the properties and doesn’t have to be privy to any of the negotiations or plans they’re working on.

Sill, he assured residents that though the city doesn’t own the properties, they retain some control in deciding what types of businesses can go on them. For instance, when the company proposed a pawnshop, Duchane gave them a flat no.

“We told them that ain’t happening,” he said. “You need special approvals for a pawnshop and they can try what they want to, but we aren’t going to approve a pawnshop. We’d take a look at one of those specialty car shops, but we’d rather see retail development or a restaurant. It’s not our building anymore, though. It’s not a discussion of what we would like to have anymore.

“I told the council this: Don’t worry about agreements, or word of mouth or negotiations, just know what your zoning and regulations do. You cannot, by right, put a pawnshop or a strip club in without special approvals. As long as you have that, you have the cards in your hand; it’s your best guarantee. Your ironclad control of the property isn’t in a contract that can be broken or argued or arbitrated; it’s in zoning and regulations. You need special licenses for certain establishments and we just won’t give one if we don’t think it’s good for the economic development of that area.”

But such establishments hardly seem like the developer’s priority. Throughout the past year, while looking into the properties, JB Donaldson has made an effort to work with the city, and they’ve expressed verbally and in writing that they intend to develop with a “neighborhood strategy.”

In a letter to Council, Bennett Donaldson wrote, “Our goal is to fulfill the needs of the City of Eastpointe on this development project to make these two corners to be focal points in the city. We will provide creative designs, practical solutions and innovative ideas for this development project.”

The property came to the city in 2012 with the purchase of tax-reversion properties from the county at a cost of about $400,000.

In addition to development at the old Colonial Dodge sites, Duchane spoke about another exciting development possibly coming to Eastpointe — a field house.

He couldn’t say much on the topic, but did verify that he was speaking to a few men interested in building a field house for indoor soccer in the city. The men are still looking at potential sites around town but have already offered the city renderings and potential layouts for a few of their favorite spots.

Both developments stand to bring in much-needed tax dollars to the city and increase commerce around town.

“I’m really excited about the projects at hand,” said Councilman Ron LaForest. “We’re looking at new development. It’s really exciting. It’s a way for the city to transform itself into a new direction. I think the residents will be really pleased.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.