Discussions continue regarding proposed Civic Center development

Town hall meeting reveals some new details

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published June 1, 2016

 Keith Karson and Bridgette Mead, front, and Don Mattson and Debbie Stamplis, back, look at artist renderings of the proposed $100 million Royal Oak Civic Center development.

Keith Karson and Bridgette Mead, front, and Don Mattson and Debbie Stamplis, back, look at artist renderings of the proposed $100 million Royal Oak Civic Center development.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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ROYAL OAK — About 140 people filled the Churchill Community Education Center auditorium May 24 to learn more about the proposed $100 million Royal Oak Civic Center development.

Factors affecting the project were discussed, including the hows and the whys from the city’s perspective regarding the project, which would build a new police headquarters and City Hall.

The existing City Hall was built in 1952 for $473,061, which City Manager Don Johnson said would cost about $4.3 million today.

Johnson said the building must be replaced, citing concrete walls that can’t be moved and an existing layout that is chopped into small spaces making it difficult and costly to reconfigure.

The statement was backed by Paul Wills, of Plante Moran CRESA, a firm hired by the city to assess the proposed project and the viability of rehabbing the existing City Hall.

“It is Plante Moran CRESA’s recommendation that this facility is functionally obsolete,” Wills said.

Johnson said the building has experienced five floods in the past 10 years, displacing city departments for months at a time. He said it promotes poor public service, is expensive to operate and contains mold, mildew and asbestos.

“It doesn’t work well for us now and I doubt that it ever did,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the proposed public-private development plan with the Boji Group includes a new City Hall as a condominium inside a 190,000-square-foot, seven-floor office building.

“The office building will pay more in taxes than the City Hall portion of this project is going to cost,” Johnson said. “So in a way,  the private side of the building is paying for the public side of the building.”

Johnson said the office building aspect of the project would bring hundreds of jobs to Royal Oak; have the ability to be expanded if needed; have a modern and efficient design; lower operating costs; and would provide a better customer service experience.

Other aspects of the proposed Royal Oak Civic Center development include a six-story parking deck along 11 Mile Road behind the alleyway of Main Street businesses; a new $18.75 million Police Department to the north of the courthouse; and a 103,000-square-foot, four-seasons $6.4 million central park.

The plans also include a tunnel under Second Street stretching from the basement of the parking deck into the office building and City Hall, and a gourmet restaurant and market.

It was emphasized that the proposed project would include the existing 44th District Court, Royal Oak Public Library, Royal Oak Farmers Market, Starr Dream Fountain and Veterans’ War Memorial.

Rumors regarding the existence of the Farmers Market were circulating, but city officials said it would remain a part of the project.

Police Chief and Assistant City Manager Corrigan O’Donohue cited a poorly constructed building; an unmanageable lobby; stuffed, overgrown quarters for all employees; and insufficient storage as some of the reasons to build a new police station.

The original police station opened its doors in 1964 and cost $739,623.

Photos of the outside of the building decaying and crumbling away were shown to the attendees.

Other aspects of the existing building that O’Donohue said are insufficient include a third-floor jail monitored by video that is one of the few existing lockups with bars on the cells.

“It’s unsafe for both the officers and the prisoners,” he said.

The new building would include an enhanced area for the department’s dispatchers and a connection to the courthouse.

Elements of how the $21.5 million dollar 550-space parking structure would be paid for were clarified with greater detail than at the first meeting to unveil the project.

The structure would be owned and operated by the city as a part of the public-private partnership and would serve those doing business in the Royal Oak Civic Center development and those coming downtown at night.

Johnson said that element of the proposal would be paid for from the parking fund and a possible Downtown Development Authority contribution.

The city manager said parking fees would most likely need to be increased in the structures and at meters, and a possible special assessment on the downtown businesses could be needed to support the project. Johnson said right now,  monthly parking permits are sold at about a third of what it costs to provide a parking space, which would need to be changed.

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.

Johnson said this is affordable once the city bonds out its legacy costs, which will put about $3 million into the general fund.

Johnson said officials are still in the process of deciding how much would be borrowed to fund the project and how much would be paid in cash. The city would be selling some of its property to the Boji Group.

City officials said no public safety millage dollars would be used for the new police headquarters. The public safety millage is used for police and fire staffing.

The format of the 6 p.m. May 24 meeting was a town hall, which didn’t sit well with everyone in the crowd. Some residents wanted the ability to make comments on the project in lieu of submitting questions to be read by a moderator.

Resident Ron Wolf passed out a memo outlining his thoughts to members of the audience before the meeting began.

“Certainly for one hundred million dollars we deserve more than sham presentations under the auspices of Don Johnson who is not interested in a civil exchange of ideas with all concerned citizens,” he wrote. “By sham I refer to the question cards that do not provide for input.”

City officials said there will be plenty of other opportunities for public comment throughout the project, as it will go before the Parks and Recreation Committee, the Planning Commission and the City Commission for final approval.

The proposed development will not go before residents for a vote. Selling park property is the only time the city must put an issue before voters. This proposal would be on city-owned property on and directly surrounding the existing City Hall.

Mayor Jim Ellison said sometimes residents have to trust those they elect into public office and feel confident they are making the best decisions for the city and taxpayers.

“It is our responsibility to be the best stewards of the city,” Ellison said.

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