City supports design plans for new City Hall

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published January 31, 2017

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ROYAL OAK — City officials voted last week in favor of moving forward with design plans for a $100 million Royal Oak city center development that will include a stand-alone City Hall.

The unanimous decision to move forward with design plans no longer showing City Hall as a condominium occupying two floors within a mixed-use office building was reached during the commission’s Jan. 23 meeting.

The next step in the proposed project is for city officials and members of the Royal Oak city center committee to develop more detailed plans while continuing talks with the Central Park Development Group.

“Nothing has been inked,” said Mayor Michael Fournier.

The decision matched the advice of the city’s legal and real estate counsel, which has been assisting elected officials and city staff through the process that began close to 18 months ago.

“From my perspective, I do think the stand-alone option presents a much less challenging environment to get something done,” said Plante Moran CRESA Partner Greg VanKirk.

VanKirk said the cost differential between a stand-alone building and a condominium are negligible, and either way a new City Hall would cost between $9 million and $10.5 million. He presented plans to the commission earlier in January that showed a two-story City Hall building to the south of the existing Royal Oak Farmers Market structure along Troy Street. The City Hall, as proposed, would still face a proposed central park.

Other aspects of the existing plans are the same as what had been shown throughout last year, including a multistory parking deck; a 190,000-square-foot, seven-story city center office building; a new $18.75-million Police Department to the north of the courthouse with an adjoined walkway; and a central park.

The proposed footprint would include the existing 44th District Court, the Royal Oak Public Library, the Royal Oak Farmers Market, the Starr Dream Fountain and the Veterans’ War Memorial.

“It’s all high-level design review at this point,” VanKirk said. “Nothing into the business or legal issues.”

City Manager Don Johnson said a stand-alone building is his reluctant recommendation.

“Frankly, my heart is still in the ROCC building,” Johnson said. “I think that is unique and different and something I really wanted to do, but my head tells me it makes more sense to do it as a stand-alone building.”

City Commissioner Jeremy Mahrle said the feedback he received was almost unanimous that residents want a stand-alone building and not a condominium.

Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas said her decision to support a stand-alone City Hall was based on the conservative advice of legal counsel and the fact that the developer would be fine with the decision either way, because they feel confident they could fill the Class A office building without the city owning two floors.

“A city is forever,” Douglas said. “A building, who knows?”

The vote came after a few residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Resident Danny Torresan said that if the project is approved, he supports the decision to have a stand-alone City Hall building.

“I’m just opposed to having a developer come in and being a condominium renter, leasing from them without owning our own property,” he said.

Torresan did question, however, if a new City Hall building is really needed.

“I think this building is a solid structure,” he said.

The resident added that he would also like to see city funds spent on existing millages that residents are currently paying, instead of bond payments.

The City Hall, Police Department and central park would be paid for with limited tax general obligation bonds that do not include a tax pledge, with payments coming from the city’s general fund.

“I have never seen this body give back to the residents,” he said to the commission. “You have given us the burden of the animal shelter — a separate tax; the library — a separate tax; we had the police and fire … now that’s become a continuous new tax on us; we’re taxing our seniors out of the city,” Torresan said. “It’s just been a burden, and I don’t see where anybody comes from this board and says, ‘You know what, let’s take the library tax and let’s pay that.’”

Johnson reiterated that there is almost no way to make the current building function as a City Hall, as it was designed originally as a school.

VanKirk said that if changes began, every aspect of the building must be brought to current code, which would be costly. He gave his opinion previously that the building was functionally obsolete and that it would cost more to try to repurpose the structure.

In addition to the City Hall agreement, the commission unanimously voted to extend the exclusivity agreement with the Central Park Development Group to April 17.

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