Economic plans focus on industry, Lakeside

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 5, 2016

 Train tracks run through Metropolitan Parkway between Mound Road and Van Dyke Avenue in Sterling Heights. City officials said one attribute of a thriving industrial corridor is access to transportation.

Train tracks run through Metropolitan Parkway between Mound Road and Van Dyke Avenue in Sterling Heights. City officials said one attribute of a thriving industrial corridor is access to transportation.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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The future of Lakeside Mall and an upcoming Sterling Enterprise Park were two of the big economic development issues that city officials discussed during a recent strategic planning session.

At a Jan. 26 meeting, Sterling Heights City Council members listened to economic development objectives through presentations by the city’s economic development consultant, Luke Bonner, and City Development Director Denice Gerstenberg.

According to Bonner, the city spent part of 2015 reimagining Lakeside Mall’s future in conjunction with civil engineering firm Wade Trim and architectural firm Archive DS. The mall, built in 1976, occupies about 1.5 million square feet and has more than 7,700 parking spaces. It is currently owned by Chicago-based General Growth Properties.

“Obviously, Lakeside is a significant community asset,” he said. “It’s a sizable taxpayer, major employer and popular quality-of-life attraction.”

Bonner said GGP has invested in Lakeside, but largely toward the mall’s maintenance and operation. Sterling Heights city officials are monitoring economic trends and believe that it’s important to think creatively to guarantee the mall’s future success, citing the opening of Partridge Creek in 2007.

“For us, that set off alarm bells that the once-mighty Lakeside may now have major competition,” he said.

While Bonner said Lakeside is “very resilient,” he said it is costly to operate. Other enclosed malls are facing “tumultuous sales,” and their long-term sustainability is an issue, Bonner said.

“While the anchor stores … have strong local sales and do quite well, there is a little bit of uneasiness regarding the national picture for these anchors,” he said. “For example, Macy’s just announced the closing of 36-40 (stores) nationally, and the Sears-Kmart merger has been anything but successful.”

According to Bonner, an emerging commercial trend is shopping centers being a place to run into the store, get what is needed, and run out.

Bonner said the study looked at the prospect of malls opening up to mixed-use development, including on-site residential properties, he explained. Mall property could also be home to an office complex or corporate headquarters, or certain parts of its structure could be reused for a hotel or  an apartment complex. A mall could also host a movie theater or water park, Bonner said.

Bonner said Wade Trim helped produce concept ideas for the Lakeside property’s future. One concept would put high-density residential property and public open space around the mall’s perimeter. A second concept would keep only the mall’s anchor stores intact but would place retail along the mall property’s perimeter while building an artificial waterway through the property.

Bonner said the city proposed to GGP the idea of forming a local retail innovation team that stays in touch while examining long-term opportunities to work together.

“We understand that any changes to the area will be over a very long period of time,” Bonner added.

Besides the mall, city officials took a sharper look at Sterling Heights’ industries in their presentations.

Bonner said the city established a SmartZone industrial corridor in 2008 in the region of Mound Road to Van Dyke Avenue. Bonner said companies including BAE Systems, Kuka Systems, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co. are stationed in the corridor.
In addition, the Sterling Enterprise Park is planned to launch this year on the site of the former Sunnybrook golf course. But city officials believe there is more to be done to the industrial region’s infrastructure and aesthetics in order to make Sterling Heights competitive with other industrial hubs in the nation.

According to Gerstenberg, a marketable corridor has well-maintained infrastructure, such as water, sewer, utilities, Internet and roads. She said the city plans to get funding from the Local Development Finance Authority to improve Sterling Heights’ industrial base.
In December, the LDFA agreed to a contract with engineering firm Hubbell, Roth and Clark to explore options toward improving Sterling Heights’ industrial corridor, and the city plans to hear the report’s findings in June. Related construction could start in the spring of 2017, Gerstenberg said.

Bonner said the city plans to present its plans to the LDFA board in February, and then present plans to the City Council in March and have council vote on them in May.

According to Bonner, the Sterling Enterprise Park’s launch will trigger the LDFA’s ability to finance infrastructure projects more quickly. He said the Sterling Enterprise Park could receive up to $100 million in new investment. The plan is to use new taxable value and revenue generated by the development as leverage for future improvements. Improvements to that area would not be purchased out of the city’s general fund, he said.

After the presentations, Councilwoman Maria Schmidt said the city can’t complain about its economic development over the past few years, calling it “phenomenal.”

“We’ve done a great job with manufacturing,” she said. “I’d like to see us focus a little more back on our commercial properties and restaurants. We do still have some empty storefronts that have been empty for a long time, and some of them are on the large side.”

Learn more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

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