SouthfieldAugust 7, 2012
Shopping center to be transformed into synagogue
By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer
SOUTHFIELD — The City Council is working with a local Jewish congregation to settle them into a permanent home, which will be Southfield’s newest synagogue.
After months of negotiation, renderings and mulling over the details, Ahavas Olam Weingarden Torah Center of Oak Park will transform part of the space in a strip mall on 10 Mile into its new home. They hope to be open within a year.
“This is a great, out-of-the-box type project, and something a little different. It’s really going to improve the community and help the Jewish community in Southfield,” Neil Single, a representative for the project, told council during the July 30 meeting. “There are a lot of young families that are moving into the community more and more, and there’s so much joy within the community that this (synagogue) might happen. It’s going to change the lives of many. ”
Council members, who were originally hesitant to allow a religious institution inside a retail area at 15612-15638 W. 10 Mile Road, approved a consent agreement at the meeting. Mayor Brenda Lawrence said they are excited to see the Jewish community grow with Southfield, but that it’s imperative for the structure to be cohesive with the city.
“I was very concerned about the appearance of a place of worship in a commercial site,” she said. “I give a lot of credit to the leadership of the synagogue, because they took all of the concerns to heart. They made a tremendous improvement to the appearance.”
Single said the new plans for the space include different windows, fewer doors, a formal entrance with an overhead port and other updated features. Ahavas Olam Weingarden Torah Center currently rents space in Oak Park, where it’s been for the last seven years, but Single said this move is needed to accommodate the growing population of Orthodox members who need a synagogue within walking distance.
“There’s a definite need for a new facility in Southfield. This is something very different than they’ve ever done before, but the city was very willing to work with us to make this project happen.”
City Planner Terry Croad said this is the first time the city will allow a former shopping center to become a house of worship. By approving a consent judgment, he said, the city will not be setting a precedent for other organizations. Southfield takes situations like these on a case-by-case basis, he explained.
“I think this is good for the city because of the influx of new, younger families into our community. It’s taking an older, tired retail center that had a lot of vacancy and putting some life into it,” he said.
Croad added that once the purchase of the property is complete, there will be a lot split and fine tuning of the concept plan. Members of the congregation will work with the city planning department and city attorney to get the details squared away.
Council woman Sylvia Jordan, who was initially opposed to the idea, said it took her visiting the area of 10 Mile and Greenfield to truly understand.
“I was very much against this project, but after driving around the community and looking at the redesign, I could see it,” she said.
Jordan explained that at first the proposal to include a synagogue in a vacant retail space seemed “almost like a hodgepodge.” With feedback from various city officials, the second proposal seemed to fit, however.
“We have to be concerned about our redevelopment and we have to be cautious. … We want to make sure all development benefits the residents and the city — the whole picture,” she said. “I actually drove over there just to see the surrounding area again and realized this would actually be a complement to the Jewish community.”
She added that a few months ago, the idea of converting part of a strip mall into a synagogue seemed “absolutely odd,” but the design now calls for the two separate places to still be a cohesive unit.
“The retail will stay there, and a men’s clothing store and the synagogue, a nonprofit, will be sharing a space. That’s pretty unique.”
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