Christened Centennial Commons because the city of Royal Oak is turning 100 years old this year, the downtown park is the last element of an expansive civic center project.

Christened Centennial Commons because the city of Royal Oak is turning 100 years old this year, the downtown park is the last element of an expansive civic center project.

Photo provided by Judy Davids


Downtown park in Royal Oak nears completion

Dedication ceremony set for Dec. 3

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 24, 2021

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ROYAL OAK — Since crews demolished the building that formerly housed Royal Oak City Hall and the Police Department in May, there has been much headway on the new 2.2-acre downtown park that will take its place.

At 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3, the city will host a dedication of Centennial Commons with walking tours; actors portraying historical figures from Royal Oak’s past, such as first mayor George Dondero; and vintage carolers as part of its two-day Winter Wonderland and centennial celebration.

Officials say the park is on time and on track with its $5.4 million budget. Christened Centennial Commons because the city of Royal Oak is turning 100 years old this year, the park is the last element of an expansive civic center project.

The project also includes a new City Hall, new Police Department, an 11 Mile Road parking structure and a six-story Henry Ford Health Services medical outpatient center.

The design of Centennial Commons features two grassy areas — one flat and one with a hill — divided by a concrete walkway, as well as the relocation of the city’s veterans memorial less than 100 feet east.

On Nov. 2, Royal Oak voters defeated a petition-driven Preserving and Protecting the Royal Oak Veterans War Memorial ordinance that the City Commission placed on the ballot during an Aug. 4 special meeting following an order by the Oakland County Circuit Court. It would have moved the memorial back to its original location approximately 60 feet west.

Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue said the Veterans Event Committee approached him about donating two marble benches to honor those who served in the First Gulf War and the War on Terror. He said the Police Department had $4,000 available that was raised through its charity golf outing.

“We have a lot of military veterans that served in both of those conflicts, so we thought it would be great for the Police Department to donate two nice marble benches to be situated near the memorial,” O’Donohue said. “They are very movable.”

The design of the park also includes a water feature; a plaza with movable furniture and overhead lighting; a low stage; a nature play area and butterfly garden; an oak grove including an existing oak tree; a boulder climb; an open space that could host an ice rink in the winter; and underground infrastructure to build a restroom facility in the future.

A bathroom is planned for phase two of the park.

“The cost appeared to be prohibitive. We’re looking at an additional $288,000 for one unisex bathroom,” City Manager Paul Brake said during a March 3 Royal Oak City Commission meeting. “We suggest continuing the conversation to figure out the proper configuration of the restroom and the proper size, then add that in.”

During the same meeting, Brake explained that the downtown park incurred costs above the initial $4.5 million placeholder budget from delays due to litigation; associated cost escalations; and the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the project.

Chris Becker, of the city’s real estate adviser, Plante Moran CRESA, said he worked with the city to “value engineer” all elements of the park that could help shave off some of the costs, including reducing the size of the library’s new canopy, nixing the bathroom, narrowing walkways, and reducing the amount of colored concrete.

Royal Oak Economic Development Manager Todd Fenton said the areas with sod will remain cordoned off with snow fencing throughout the winter to ensure the grass has the best chance to take root and be viable.

“It will be spring when you’re actually going to have more people that will actually be congregating on-site because the sod has taken hold and the trees have taken hold,” Fenton said. “(The actual land the park exists on) was a parking structure for 30 years.”

Prior to the parking structure, he added, the land initially served as a park in the 1930s and ’40s.

“It was built when the federal government was passing a lot of programs to spur the economy after the Great Depression,” Fenton said. “Some of that money went into there. They had a park and there was an actual pond with a turtle that was in it.”

The now demolished building that formerly housed the Police Department and City Hall was built in 1964. The original brochure celebrating the opening of the building touted its “great vinyl asbestos tiles.” Officials said it was built poorly, with structural issues and a leaky roof and windows.

“In many ways, we’re returning (the land) to the use that it originally was, but in a much more dynamic and vibrant way,” Fenton said.

Brake said the south entrance to the Royal Oak Public Library remains under construction and a temporary handrail would be installed until an illuminated handrail can be installed in a couple of months due to a delay.

“If anything is constant in Royal Oak it is change and our willingness to embrace it,” Royal Oak City Commissioner Sharlan Douglas said in an emailed statement. “Centennial Commons and the rest of the civic center represent an enormous step forward. They are the launching pad for the next hundred years in our vibrant, welcoming city.”

Centennial Commons is located directly in front of the Henry Ford Health Services medical outpatient center, 110 E. Second St., east of Main Street.

For more information, visit romi.gov or call Royal Oak City Hall at (248) 246-3000.

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