Royal OakJuly 9, 2012
Suburban gets OK to fight for clock tower
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK — Time is ticking for the Fresard Clock Tower, but the City Commission gave its blessing to Suburban Collection to appeal the Michigan Department of Transportation’s decision to remove the electronic signs that adorn the tower.
The 5-1 decision, with Commissioner David Poulton dissenting and Commissioner Peggy Goodwin absent, supported Suburban Collection’s interest in appealing an MDOT decision that came to light when the bankrupt Fresard Group failed to pay a $150 annual signage fee for the well-known clock tower on the east side of Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak.
“I’m not a big fan of motion and LED and all those signs, but in this particular case, the tower that houses the signage is critical to the neighborhood,” Commissioner Patricia Capello said during the July 2 City Commission meeting. “If we don’t support you, I think the likelihood is great that the tower will come down, the right of way will be restored, and the street will possibly be reopened. I think that will be detrimental to the neighborhood.”
Although not all City Commission members expected the street in question to reopen, connecting West Harrison to Woodward at 25658 Woodward Ave., that was regularly mentioned as the least ideal result.
A stipulation in the license agreement with Fresard requires Royal Oak City Commission approval before any change in ownership. Without it, the license would be terminated and Fresard would be responsible for returning the site to the natural grass state in which it was purchased.
“At that time, it becomes their obligation to restore the public right of way to its original condition, which would involve removing the tower, opening the road back up and basically making it as it was immediately after the Japanese Sauna (a former business) was torn down,” City Attorney David Gillam said.
Commissioner Jim Rasor told Suburban Collection attorney Tyler Tennent he would like to see a lot more city use for the three electronic billboards if Suburban Collection were to take control of it from Fresard. Rasor said he planned to fight for more civic use when a new license agreement is negotiated.
“I always personally thought we got a little duped on the agreement that got negotiated just because the thing turned into an enormous billboard,” Commissioner Jim Rasor said. “We didn’t have a lot of city advertising on it.”
Tennent said Suburban Collection wanted to work with the city and would be open to fixing issues from the prior use, but wouldn’t get into negotiations for that license agreement until and after a successful MDOT appeal.
“I think their goal is to eliminate signs, frankly. I think it was probably established to eliminate the billboards we see on top of buildings and things like that. I think that was kind of the dragnet that caught the tower right now,” Tennent said. “Suburban Collection will not stand in the shoes of Fresard. We’re not acquiring those assets of Fresard like a stockholder or something like that, so we’ll be an outside entity, essentially.”
Commissioner David Poulton opposed the tower being saved at all because he felt electronic billboards on local roads were a distraction to drivers.
Mayor Jim Ellison said the local history behind the tower should not be forgotten.
“It’s there for a reason,” Ellison said. “I remember what we went through in getting the tower in that location was considered a large victory for the neighborhood at the time, and I think they have some sentimental attachment to it.”
From here, an administrative law judge will hear the MDOT decision and Suburban Collection appeal in August. If MDOT and Allied Bank, which owns the property following Fresard’s bankruptcy, can agree to terms with Suburban Collection, Suburban will have to work with the city on a new license agreement for the Fresard Clock Tower and its three billboards.
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