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Leaders debate new parking structure as plans are ready for bid

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published September 20, 2016

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ROYAL OAK — A $13.5 million, seven-story parking structure discussed for the Second Street parking lot across from the Royal Oak post office was the topic of lengthy discussion during the City Commission’s recent meeting.

The proposed structure was the topic of what turned into a hearty back-and-forth primarily between Mayor Jim Ellison and City Commissioner Jeremy Mahrle the evening of Sept. 12.

During the meeting, the commission was asked whether or not it would like to authorize city staff to solicit bids for the Second Street parking deck project.

After expressing his concern that possible uses of the Second Street parking lot property were not explored and due diligence was not executed, Mahrle introduced another motion to issue a request for proposals for the parcel of property.

The motion failed after commissioners and city officials made their opinions known regarding the project.

At the center of the debate was the timing of Mahrle’s request to go out with a formal request for proposals for that property from other developers while concurrently moving forward with the parking structure proposal.

“The time for this motion was on March 21, 2016, when we authorized Rich & Associates to proceed with the design drawings, because they have spent an extraordinary amount of money and effort and time to develop those drawings,” said City Commissioner Patricia Paruch. “If we wanted to take a step back and say, ‘OK, what other things could occur on this site?’ that was the time to do it.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s too late.”

Paruch voted against the newly introduced motion along with City Commissioners Sharlan Douglas and David Poulton, and Ellison. The commission did vote 5-1 to have city staff solicit bids for the parking deck project, with Mahrle voting no.

Director of Community Development Timothy Thwing said the commission had seen and approved the design. He said there would be future actions needed from the commission, including awarding an actual bid and general contractor.

Ellison, citing his career in the construction industry, said that going out for proposals now would create a bad image for Royal Oak, making it appear the city has no problem switching gears so late in a project’s process.

“If there were doubts on this project, we should have stopped it before they hired the architect,” he said.

“My point is that, until there are shovels in the ground, we’re never too far down the road,” Mahrle said. “We’ve spent less than 3 percent of the total budget for this project as proposed. … It is never too late for us to change course if we collectively have the vision to think more broadly and think differently.”

Mahrle said he would like to see all possibilities and mixed uses explored.

“So, that is my concern. We’ve never really considered what could potentially be on the entire site. Is the one use of parking the best use for a plot of land, a parcel of land, that’s squarely in the center of our downtown?” he said.

Ellison said studies and meetings have shown that part of town is lacking parking, and frontage on Second Street is not the most conducive to retail use because it is a one-way street.

“I think going forward with this deck and filling the parking needs that have already been identified in various studies — filling that parking need quickly — allows us to continue to progress forward with alternate plans, rather than possibly delaying this plan, which could really put a roadblock in our future development plans, because we still need this new parking on that lot, and it has been identified for a number of years as the space where it should go,” Ellison said.

City Manager Don Johnson said the city couldn’t afford — due to bond capacity — another larger-in-scale project, other than a parking structure like what is proposed.

Johnson said that if they tried for another development project on that property, the Royal Oak Civic Center Development proposal would be scrapped.

The designs approved by the commission include, in addition to parking, 5,000 square feet of commercial or retail space at Center and Second streets that the city could lease, a small area for parking management staff, and a portion under the ramp for Department of Public Service storage.

Thwing said the property has been marketed in the past and there hasn’t been much interest, other than a defunct proposal coined the “postal plaza project” that fell through.

Owner of Peking House Randall Lim — the restaurant adjacent to the property — spoke before the City Commission to ask members to vote against the project.

“My wife and I have put in a lot of effort, and we made a lot of sacrifices to make sure the business grew and continued,” he said. “And I would like to see that continue, but if you remove the surface lot, it is going to kill our business.”    

Lim said the structure will dwarf his building and the lot is vital to the existence of his business, because they do a lot of carryout and have many senior citizen customers who prefer to park in outside surface lots.

Thwing said there will be an entrance and exit stairwell at the southeast corner of the garage near the restaurant, along with ground-level parking. He said a request for a valet service also will be introduced to take place during construction, which could begin by spring. Thwing said the plans also include an entrance and exit from Washington Avenue.

Speaking on behalf of the structure was Douglas Etkin.

“We appreciate your consideration in moving this project forward,” he said. “We believe that the deck itself is consistent with the plan that you adopted.

“It serves both a current need and a near-term, identified future need, and it’s in the right place per your studies to serve the needs of both merchants and patrons, and occupants of both daytime and nighttime uses,” Etkin said.

Etkin has a proposed development consisting of a three-story office building, with parking on the first level, in the existing city-owned municipal parking lot at the corner of 11 Mile Road and Center Street.

Thwing and Ellison said the expectation of the Second Street parking structure plays an integral role in other projects currently in the pipeline.

Those wanting to move forward with the Second Street parking structure said the possibility existed to redevelop the existing Center Street parking garage property in the future.

Thwing said that structure has about 10 more years in its lifespan. He also said that property on Center Street is more strategically located to be open to retail.

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