Grosse Pointe City officials clash over Village hotel committee appointments

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 18, 2018

GROSSE POINTE CITY — The controversy over a possible hotel in the Village even extended to conflict over who should be on a committee to provide guidance to hotel developers.

Mayor Christopher Boettcher locked horns with City Councilman Christopher Walsh over the committee makeup. Boettcher had suggested that a representative from Pedersen Development Company LLC — the City’s chosen preferred hotel developer — could be a guest at the meetings, because the committee was tasked with providing guidance to the developer. 

Walsh disagreed, saying that the Pedersen representative should be named to the committee itself. Curt Pedersen is the managing partner of Pedersen Development Company LLC, and a Grosse Pointe City resident, so he would be the company representative.

“I firmly believe Pedersen should be on the committee,” Walsh said. “He is the reason for the committee’s existence.”

Boettcher suggested that City officials on the committee could be the mayor and City Councilman Donald Parthum Jr.

The verbal flap between Walsh and Boettcher continued, with Walsh calling for City Councilwoman Sheila Tomkowiak to be named to the committee, given that, he said, Boettcher “campaigned ardently against a hotel” last fall, before the mayoral and council election. Walsh accused Boettcher of not returning multiple phone calls to discuss the committee makeup before the meeting.

“I didn’t want to go this route,” Walsh told Boettcher. “That’s why I called you five times between Saturday and Monday.”

Boettcher responded by accusing Walsh of carrying a grudge, telling Walsh, “Chris, you’ve got to stop.”

“This is not a grudge,” Walsh countered. 

City Councilman John Stempfle agreed with naming Tomkowiak to the committee, calling that “a good idea.” Boettcher agreed to add her.

Tomkowiak said the committee needs a “very clear idea” of what its function should be. As she sees it, City officials need to come up with a list of what they want and what they don’t want with regard to a possible hotel. Tomkowiak said the committee shouldn’t be formed to determine whether or not City officials want a hotel, whether a hotel is viable or not, and details such as how many rooms the hotel should or shouldn’t have. She said the committee should come up with “overarching parameters” for the project.

“I’m in complete agreement with her,” City Councilman Daniel Williams said about setting parameters for the potential project.

Parthum concurred that the committee needs to tell the developer what City officials would want, if a hotel were to be built.

“I also think certain things (from the City’s perspective) need to be communicated to (the developer),” he said.

Some officials have said the reason the hotel became the source of considerable controversy and rumor last year was because City officials failed to give the developers direction after selecting Pedersen as the preferred developer.

Boettcher proposed a mix of representatives from the City Downtown Development Authority, Village businesses, City officials and residents. City Manager Pete Dame agreed to sit in on the committee meetings, but he’s not serving as a committee member. Besides Pedersen, Boettcher, Tomkowiak and Parthum, the committee will include DDA Board Chair Andrew Martin and DDA Board member David Katz, Marais owner David Gilbert and City resident Lewis Gazoul, a real estate professional. The council voted 6-1 in favor of the committee appointments.

Williams cast the sole vote against the committee members. He said he did so because he had voted against the formation of the committee itself at a prior meeting.

“I felt we needed to make a decision as a council,” Williams said after the meeting.

He added that he was opposed to appointing Pedersen to the committee as well.

“It seems — at least to me — that there’s a conflict if you have the developer on the committee giving the developer guidelines,” Williams said.

Dame said the committee meetings would need to be held publicly.

“In essence, they are performing a function for the government,” he told the council. “They’re doing what the developer asked (the council) to (do). … You can’t do public business in a private room.”

As a result, the committee meetings will need agendas, minutes, a committee chair and a place for public comment, Dame said.

“I think what this provides for (the developers) is a sounding board to bounce ideas off of,” Walsh said.

The committee formation doesn’t mean that a hotel is a certainty.

“It may be, at the end of it, that there’s not a viable alternative for them to do it,” City Councilman Andrew Turnbull said.

At press time, meeting dates for the committee hadn’t been established yet.