Central Park development preview draws big crowd

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published April 27, 2016

 The plan would include a new City Hall, Police Department, promenade, parking structure and park including a splash pad, amphitheater, green space and seating.

The plan would include a new City Hall, Police Department, promenade, parking structure and park including a splash pad, amphitheater, green space and seating.

Rendering courtesy of the city of Royal Oak

ROYAL OAK — Nearly 250 people filled City Hall and nearby overflow rooms April 18 to see firsthand the more than $100 million plans for a Central Park development.

Real estate professional Ron Boji held the floor during the meeting, which lasted more than three hours, to describe the plans for the center of the downtown that would include a new City Hall, Police Department, promenade, parking structure and park. The park would include a splash pad, amphitheater, green space and seating.

The development stretches from Main Street east to Knowles Street, with southern and northern borders of Third Street and 11 Mile Road, respectively, and it incorporates the existing 44th District Court, Royal Oak Public Library, Starr Dream Fountain and Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial.

Hallmarks of the plan include a six-story parking deck with 550 parking spaces along 11 Mile Road behind the alleyway of Main Street businesses; a 190,000-square-foot, seven-story City Center office building abutting the Main Street alleyway and Third Street; a new $18.75 million, state-of-the art and secure Police Department to the north of the courthouse with an adjoined walkway; and a Central Park that would be located behind the new City Center office building stretching east to Troy Street.

Officials said community input would be an integral part of designing the park.

“This is a group effort,” Boji said. “This is not one or two people making decisions.”

Boji said the office building would be on the city’s tax roll and real estate professionals would be paying the appraised value for the land. He said the City Center office building would bring more than 700 new jobs to the city.

“So we can fill in the gap of the ‘live’ and ‘play’ and bring in the work into Royal Oak,” he said.

The plans also include a tunnel under Second Street stretching from the basement of the parking deck into the office building or City Hall and a gourmet restaurant and market inside the City Hall and office building. Boji said the 30,000-square-foot City Hall inside the development would have its own entrance with one counter and clearly defined, secure service areas.

Work would begin this fall and the project would be complete in 2018 if all approvals are secured.

“We’re interested in this type of development because we’re trying to keep the city of Royal Oak on the forefront,” said Mayor Jim Ellison. “We’re attracting young families all of the time, coming in and they want things for their families to enjoy, and a downtown park with  various amenities is going to do that.”

Ellison said the development would also benefit seniors and visitors, and would provide a much needed police station to replace the “antiquated” building the department is housed in now.

“All in all, I think this is going to be a quality investment in our city,” he said.

The plans were met with support from the vast majority of residents and downtown business owners and union
representatives speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I have a young family here. … This is exactly the type of thing we were hoping for and look for,” said resident Kirk Armstrong. “We wanted to stay here for the rest of our lives, and we likely will. This makes it very easy; something like this, it just adds to the character and the life that you look for with a young family, and it makes you proud to be a citizen here.”

City officials consistently said that no tax dollars would be used for the project.

The development would be a public-private partnership that would include the city selling the property on which sits the existing City Hall parking lot on Williams Street, keeping the property that the proposed central park would be built on and owning the portion of the City Center office building housing City Hall.

“City Hall is a condo in the new office building,” said City Manager Don Johnson. “We’re the owners. We’re not the tenants.”

Johnson said determining the amount that would be borrowed vs. the amount that would be paid in cash for the entire project is still in the works. He estimates the total cost to the city at about $56 million.

Johnson said the project would be funded through bonds with annual payments estimated between $650,000 and $950,000, off-set by the collection of property taxes generated by the office development and parking structure.

Johnson said the worst case scenario would be debt service payments of $1.6 million per year if the entire project was financed, but he does not see that as happening.

Johnson said repayments would also be offset by savings in employee and building costs that would be shaved once the city was in a functioning, state-of-the-art building.

An independent study commissioned by the city and nearly complete by Plante Moran CRESA looking at the need for a new City Hall and police station stated that new construction would be a more favorable and economical decision than rehabbing and reconstructing the existing buildings.

A few residents said they were leery of the public-private partnership nature of the project and leery that the project would not come from taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

“I’m very skeptical on any approach like this,” said resident Danny Torresan.

Another resident pointed out that although the funding may not be technically from a new tax via a bond or millage, the repayments would come from the city’s general fund, which is used for city business and could possibly leave the general fund with a shortfall in the future.

Johnson said the city is preparing to bond out the city’s OPEB (other post employment benefits) and pension funds, which will save about $3.5 million annually, leaving more than enough to pay for the project three times over.

Johnson said even without the above savings, the city could afford the repayments.

Resident S.R. Boland was not inspired by the design of the City Center office building, saying the lack of creativity is contributing to the “blandinization” of America.

“What I see in the (proposed) building — it’s bland,” he said. “It’s more bland stuff. It’s the architecture of a Red Robin or an Applebee’s carried over into an office building. And it shouldn’t just be an office building. It should be something that the people could be proud of.

“It should have elements that make you proud to be a citizen. It shouldn’t just be a repository for offices, the utilitarian function of them.”

Boland said he supports the park and the need for a new police station.

Other residents stressed their concerns with making sure the project is green and sustainable.

Many in attendance also were there in support of union skilled trades workers and were pleased to hear union workers would be used for the job.

The new City Hall and Police Department buildings would be built and services relocated before the current City Hall building would be razed to make room for the park.