Ferndale, Baker College in negotiations on potential downtown campus, parking deck

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published January 22, 2019


FERNDALE — The city of Ferndale has entered into an exclusive negotiating rights agreement with Baker College for the institution to purchase property in the downtown area.

Approved at the City Council’s Jan. 14 meeting, Baker College, which is working in partnership with Acquest Realty and TMP Architecture, is looking to buy privately owned property at the northwest corner of East Nine Mile Road and Bermuda Street, as well as a city-owned parking lot near Como’s Restaurant to develop a college campus that holds “classrooms, street-level activation, staff/administrative offices and other ancillary college-related uses,” according to a city document.

The college also is looking at developing a mixed-use parking deck with approximately 300 to 400 parking spaces, small-business retail and potential residential space in one of three locations: private properties on the south side of Vester Avenue, between Bermuda and a nearby alley; a privately owned parking lot on the north side of Vester, adjacent to Valentine Distilling, and potentially a portion of the city’s East Breckinridge Street parking lot; or the city-owned parking lot between City Hall and the Ferndale Area District Library.

The exclusive negotiating rights agreement allows for a due diligence period where Ferndale will take no other offers on the properties that Baker wants to purchase, while Ferndale explores key community concerns prior to any approval.

Community and Economic Development Director Jordan Twardy laid out the key community concerns as the project meeting its own parking needs, which can’t reduce existing public parking capacity; the project must result in “meaningful commitments and partnerships on public safety, education and more”; and it must “reflect unique urban environment, including street-level activation, walkability, public and green spaces, promotion of small local business and sustainable design.”

Twardy said the exclusive negotiating rights agreement period will last until April, when the final plan will go to the council for a possible approval. A potential timeline could have construction done in 2020, pending the approval of the project and all necessary permits.

Baker College President Bart Daig said the college started a long-term strategic planning process about three years ago, when a decision was made to consolidate its campuses in metro Detroit into one location.

“For the last two years, we’ve been going through a lot of research into various areas and doing our due diligence, and Ferndale ended at the top of the list,” he said. “We began looking for potential property. … We believe that the city of Ferndale has a lot to offer for college students. It has a lot of the things that they want from a walkable community. The services, the bikeable community, all the things that make your city great, we believe is what students demand, and we want to get a campus going in this area.”

During the citizen comment portion of the topic, Ferndale resident Dana Zurawski, who previously worked at Baker for eight years, said she was surprised when she first heard the news of Baker looking at the city for a new campus.

Zurawski said her concerns with the proposal have to do with the amount of space Ferndale has to hold the project, as well as what could happen to the other Baker College campuses. She cited two campuses, one in Clinton Township near Gratiot Avenue and one in Allen Park near Interstate 94, as examples of big buildings that take up a lot of space.

“Ferndale doesn’t have a lot of space to grow,” she said. “We don’t have a big Gratiot Avenue. We don’t have an I-94. We don’t have a lot of space. So I’m just concerned with the growth aspect, the shuttering aspect of the larger, flagship campuses, and then, as Jordan had mentioned, the walkability, the parking.”

Councilman Dan Martin said he’s excited about the conversation.

“In the conversations thus far, I’m really appreciative of Baker’s approach and openness and willingness to have those conversations, even the tough ones, and work with us,” he said. “There’s a lot to cover in the next 90 days, but I think we’re starting from a really good place to get to the destination that we need to get to, one way or the other.”