Mayor plans ‘last stand’ for downtown project

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published October 27, 2021


WARREN — Mayor Jim Fouts said he fears time may be running out for the Warren City Council to vote yes or no on his administration’s proposed downtown development plan.

If that is indeed the case, some members of the council are saying so be it, unless their questions are answered and the proposal is changed to become something they can approve.

“We’re making a last stand next week for the downtown,” Fouts said Oct. 19. “We’re running out of time. We’re going to give them a proposal.”

Warren city administrators have asked the council to approve moving a plan forward that would invest an initial $30 million in gap funding through the sale of bonds to be repaid with new business tax dollars from project developers captured in the city’s Downtown Development Authority district and transitional brownfield redevelopment credits through the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The result, proponents said, would be up to $140 million in investments from developers that would transform vacant city-owned land in the Civic Center, along Van Dyke Avenue north of 12 Mile Road, into an active “downtown” area with a grocery store and other commercial spaces, residential units and a Marriott hotel.

The result, they said, would be a $250 million annual boon for the local economy, at no cost to residential taxpayers, along with hundreds of commercial jobs and more than 1,000 construction jobs.

Fouts has called on the City Council to place the item on the agenda for an up or down vote. Dozens of people have spoken about the project during audience participation, and council members have debated how, and if, the question of their approval should be put on the record.

On Sept. 28, Warren City Council President Pat Green read a prepared list of financial, land use, feasibility and legal questions and called for answers to those questions in writing.

“I’m afraid the developers are going to walk away,” Fouts said. “It’s frustrating for them. We came there to answer their questions, and then they didn’t want to ask us questions. What’s that about?”

Despite information offered by members of the administration’s project team at the Sept. 28 meeting, Green said questions remain about the council’s legal authority to approve such a plan.

Councilman Ronald Papandrea and Councilwoman Angela Rogensues called on their colleagues to permit the architect, developer, financial advisors and city staff who know about the project to answer the questions verbally, as well as in writing. With supporters of the project, city employees and appointees addressing the City Council during audience participation, Green said the session had turned into a “political event” and not a proper forum where the council could get solid answers to its questions.

“I’m still in the same position, that the $30 million that they want to use for a private entity is not a public use of tax dollars. Period,” Green said Oct. 21. “I’ve stated that from the beginning. I continue to state that.

“We’re not into corporate welfare,” Green said. “We want to use tax dollars for the people.”

Council Secretary Mindy Moore said the item would not be placed on the agenda until the questions are answered.

“If they’re not going to answer our questions and there’s a time limit on when these developers are interested in proceeding, then maybe this is dead and a new proposal will come later,” Moore said. “I don’t think any of us are interested in giving away $30 million of captured DDA funds without a more detailed explanation of what the actual commitments are.

“We have not seen letters of intent. We have seen no engagement letters. We just have what people say. We don’t have anything in writing from any developer,” Moore said.

Administration officials said the project team took years to assemble and that the plan has been a long time in the making.

Fouts said the latest proposal would tie a theater, the 37th District Court and administrative offices for the Fire Department into the development.

 “We’re trying to do everything we can,” Fouts said. “I just wish the City Council would be just a little bit more cooperative.”

The Warren City Council was expected to meet at 7 p.m. Oct. 26, after press time.

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