Royal OakJune 25, 2012
Future of Fresard Clock Tower in question
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK — It was put up as a monument more than a decade ago, but it could be coming down by summer’s end.
The Fresard Clock Tower, located on Woodward Avenue at West Harrison and named after a former Main Street car dealership that moved to Ferndale before declaring bankruptcy, is facing a petition from the Michigan Department of Transportation to see some changes in the next few months.
With the Fresard dealership gone, no one paid MDOT an annual $150 permit fee for the tower, so now MDOT is looking to remove the “abandoned sign.” However, whether that means the entire tower or just the three electrical billboards that are attached is to be determined by an administrative law judge in August.
“The statute of Michigan says that when a sign is considered abandoned, that the MDOT can petition an administrative law judge in Lansing to have the signs and the structures removed,” said Tyler Tennent, an attorney representing Suburban Collection, which has other potential plans for the structure. “In my discussions with the MDOT’s representatives, they tell me it is both the signs and the supporting structure that are intended to be removed. I didn’t get a clear answer as to whether it would mean the entire structure, but I think the statute is broad enough to allow that.”
Tennent approached the City Commission June 18 to ask for support in Suburban Collection’s wish to appeal the MDOT petition and buy the tower from Allied Bank, which assumed control when Fresard went under.
“In August there should be a decision one way or another, not hinging on the city’s support,” Tennent said. “My client, Suburban Collection, won’t go forward with investing the kind of money for the appeal or the upgrade to the tower unless we enlist the city’s support in this. We’re not required to get your support, but we really want it.”
Reaction among City Commission members and residents in attendance seemed split, but leaned in favor of keeping the tower if the city would gain more use out of it than was provided under Fresard’s ownership.
“I never saw community advertising on the two sides of the sign you could see from Woodward, but I saw it on the monochrome side of the sign you couldn’t see while driving by,” Commissioner Jim Rasor said. “What I saw was great big huge, really huge ads in a residential area that I wasn’t a fan of. I’d really like some clarification on that license agreement.”
Residents and the clock tower’s architect spoke during public comment. Some supported it as both a divider between the neighborhood and Woodward Avenue, and also a monument to the absence of a former business that housed a prostitution ring. Others declared it an unsightly distraction that is not the best use of the 2,300-square-foot space.
“It’s tasteless, it’s unrefined, it does not belong there,” resident Dan Godek said. “Why is Suburban Collection interested in this? Not because it’s a clock tower or says Royal Oak on it, but because it has three billboards.”
Tennent didn’t deny the usefulness the billboards would provide Suburban Collection, but Mayor Jim Ellison said if the city could gain more use for public events, it would offset the advertising use.
“Without the advertising, the tower is really of no use to Suburban and I don’t believe they would pursue buying it. Suburban has an interest in this so they can advertise,” Ellison said. “Personally, I like the tower. I think it’s a nice visual aspect down there. I’d like to see us find a way to keep it instead of walking away and seeing it destroyed. If the tower goes away, I think there is a very real chance that road could reopen again. And that concerns me. I’m sure that concerns the neighbors more than it concerns me.”
Listening to commission members and the half-dozen residents in attendance, Tennent said Suburban Collection would work with the city to make both sides happy, if their appeal is successful.
“What we intend to do is upgrade the electronics so it’s able to be accessed remotely,” Tennent said, noting that the current sign has to be modified manually on site. “I heard one person mentioned that the brightness or intensity of the sign was too much, and that can be regulated as well.”
Commissioner David Poulton opposed the electronic billboards, but not the tower itself, because of the competitive business advantage and visual distraction it creates.
“The clock tower was supposed to be a focal feature of a public community space,” Poulton said. “The LED technology leaves nothing but a nuisance in other communities. There’s other requests for digital billboards in this city that we’ve been denying and I think this is nothing more than an attempt to create a digital billboard on Woodward Avenue, which would create a traffic congestion nightmare.”
Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello noted that the bulk of the debate circled around the electronic signage and not the tower itself.
“I think the neighborhood has grown attached to the tower,” Capello said. “I think the sign part is not an issue. It’s an issue more for us and the city attorney and the license agreement with Suburban, so I think it’s important we move forward and support what the neighbors and neighborhood fought for, agreed to and would like to continue.”
The City Commission unanimously decided to revisit the issue at its July 2 meeting after Suburban Collection could bring forth a more specific plan for the site and its shared use.
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