Mayors celebrate progress during State of the Cities

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published April 2, 2023

 During her address at the State of the Cities March 23, Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein described many developments taking place in her city. She also called for increased awareness and support for mental health efforts.

During her address at the State of the Cities March 23, Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein described many developments taking place in her city. She also called for increased awareness and support for mental health efforts.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 In his speech at the State of the Cities March 23, Hazel Park Mayor Mike Webb said his town continues to grow as an emerging hot spot in the metro Detroit area.

In his speech at the State of the Cities March 23, Hazel Park Mayor Mike Webb said his town continues to grow as an emerging hot spot in the metro Detroit area.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — The Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual State of the Cities event March 23, at Eastern Palace Club in Hazel Park. The program featured speeches by the mayors of both Madison Heights and Hazel Park, highlighting trends and accomplishments in each town.


Grafstein: New developments define year for Madison Heights
“I am happy to report tonight that the state of Madison Heights is strong,” said the city’s mayor, Roslyn Grafstein, according to her prepared remarks.

“Citywide, we are completing unprecedented capital improvements to our city facilities, parks and public safety infrastructure and equipment. In addition, thanks to the hard work of staff, we have been the recipient of many grant programs and partnerships that will pay dividends for years to come, and help us provide excellent services to everyone who works, lives or visits Madison Heights,” Grafstein said.

The last two years have seen Madison Heights focused on meeting the needs of its changing business demographics, she said. In 2022, development activity returned to pre-pandemic levels, including the approval of about $26 million in new construction, bringing the overall value of ongoing construction in the city to around $37 million.

“Many of our ongoing projects are expected to take multiple years to complete, and with nationwide labor shortages, supply chain issues and inflation, other projects continue to be delayed, and it remains a challenging construction season for developers and business owners,” she said.

The mayor said the city continues to meet with businesses interested in Madison Heights.

“Over the last year, I have met with representatives of various consulates to highlight the attractiveness of Madison Heights as a multicultural hub and the perfect suburb for international companies looking to set up in the metro Detroit area,” Grafstein said. “I have also spoken with developers and others involved in commercial real estate about the changes we have been making in our ordinances to be more attractive for investment and development.”

These discussions have included ideas for the city’s vacant and underutilized parcels, and their potential redevelopment as mixed-use sites and multi-family homes. She said the city has welcomed new businesses such as Michigan Roots Artisan Shoppe and Systematic Manufacturing Inc., and that existing businesses have seen renovations and expansions, such as those at Master’s Millwork and Mia’s Bakery & Coffee Shop. In the downtown area, Woodpile BBQ expanded its outdoor seating and Diamond Jim’s overhauled its exterior, while The Supply House relocated to its own space, making way for the growth of Cadillac Straits Brewing Company.

Many of these projects were supported by local grants and programs through the Downtown Development Authority, including the DDA’s facade and sign grants, and the redevelopment liquor license program.

The mayor also highlighted residential development, with more than 500 building permits in 2022 and $1 million in construction completed, and close to another $2 million in ongoing projects. This year, the city is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County on a federal grant assisting homeowners on home improvements. The city also received Neighborhood Enhancement Program monies through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, as well as funds for minor home repairs through the Community Development Block Grant Program, which together brings the total home repair assistance funds to just under $1 million.

The city has been improving its own assets as well. In 2022, the city broke ground on the largest capital investment in its history, with a project at Civic Center Plaza that includes the renovation and downsizing of City Hall, the renovation of the library, and the construction of a new Active Adult Center between them, as well as the off-campus renovation of Fire Station 2. There will also be eight charging stations for electric vehicles at Civic Center Plaza. Currently, the overall project is about 75% complete.

The mayor said quality of life has been another priority, including the gradual restoration of the tree canopy over the past five years, with more than 250 trees planted in 2022. The current focus is on south side neighborhoods and the John R corridor, increasing their appeal for pedestrians and local businesses. The city has also invested more than $1 million in park improvements, with another $1 million planned each year for the next two years, spanning a wide range of projects from play structure replacements to renovated ballfields and new park lights.

This year, Ambassador Park will be renamed McGillivray Park in honor of Oakland County Commissioner Gary McGillivray, who has served the city for decades. The city is also partnering with the county to enhance the park, including new pickleball courts, bathrooms, walking path upgrades and connector trails to the golf course and John R Road.

The city has also been upgrading its zoning ordinance, with an eye toward user-friendliness for potential investors. Last year, the city hired McKenna Associates to develop a complete rewrite of the zoning ordinance, aligning it with the goals of the city’s 2020 master plan. A first draft was finished in February, and city staff anticipates the ordinance will be in full effect later this year.

Madison Heights is also joining Oakland Thrive, a newly formed countywide nonprofit that will provide resources for new and aspiring business owners. The city is currently in talks with Thrive to host an open house for them in the city.

Grafstein also used her address to provide an update on the property formerly known as Electro-Plating Services at 910, 945 and 959 East 10 Mile Road — site of the infamous “green ooze” laced with hexavalent chromium that leaked onto Interstate 696 in late 2019.

“Today I am happy to share that demolition and remediation on these three sites have been completed and the city has recently taken possession of these three parcels,” Grafstein said. “We will continue to work with the state of Michigan to turn this former eyesore into a quality redevelopment opportunity that can serve as a catalyst for the entire corridor.”

The mayor also underscored the city’s diversity, citing its selection of ethnic eateries, multinational companies and cultural centers. Madison Heights is home to both the American Islamic Community Center and the Chinese Community Center, as well as the Mexican Consulate.

Grafstein also drew attention to the nation’s struggle with mental health issues. She said local government is limited in what it can do, but she wants the community to show compassion and understanding for those suffering from mental illness.

“There are not enough support resources available for those suffering from a mental illness, and the stigma is still there. Far too often, those suffering from a mental illness are ignored or shunted between bureaucracies, struggling to maneuver through the system while trying to find help and instead finding another layer of stress,” Grafstein said, before calling for new incentives for people to become mental health professionals, as well as for businesses to better accommodate the mental health needs of their employees.

“All in all, 2022 was a year of growth and learning,” the mayor concluded. “I look forward to another year of working with our partners as we continue to support and grow our businesses.”

Following the speech, Madison Heights City Councilman David Soltis said that he hopes the city also keeps other vulnerable groups in mind, such as seniors, as well as children facing abuse and neglect in Michigan.

“There is, in a sense, an actual epidemic every year for child abuse and maltreatment, and the state has barely scratched the tip of the iceberg. That’s why each city needs to do its part to advocate for our children,” Soltis said. “I also think that we, as a City Council, tend to spend too much time on initiatives we don’t need, like courting marijuana companies, when there are many residents who can really use our help.”

Soltis added, “In terms of seniors, I am also disappointed that the city hasn’t done more to encourage low-income senior housing facilities, and to provide more long-term healthcare facilities that accept more Medicaid cases. The very poor seniors that need to go into a nursing home often have a rough time finding one or being accepted into one, so that’s a huge hindrance toward low-income seniors that need long-term care.

“I would love to see the city come up with some solutions for our seniors who want to age in place and stay at home and live out their years. That’s a huge thing, and I feel it’s also a dignity issue,” Soltis said.


Webb: Hazel Park sees strong growth in housing, commerce
“The past decade has brought many changes to our city, but change is nothing new for Hazel Park,” began the city’s mayor, Mike Webb, according to his prepared remarks.

He cited a paper written by Howard Beecher, a former official of the Hazel Park Public Schools who wrote in the 1920s about the unincorporated area that would later become the city of Hazel Park, and how at that time, the area was populated by people seeking work in the auto  industry, which led to a population boom that strained government services.

“In order to survive, Hazel Park would have to become a city,” Webb said, tracing Hazel Park’s formation from its official incorporation in the early 1940s, as well as its reputation as a blue-collar town helping to build the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

After the Second World War, Hazel Park entered a period of growth with reasonably priced homes fueling new subdivisions. The Hazel Park Raceway opened in 1949, providing for half of the city’s general fund budget by the mid-1950s. But the horse racing industry was in decline by the ’90s, due to competition from casinos in Detroit. The state also began cutting funding to cities.

“In order to survive, Hazel Park had to adapt to those changing times. I’m proud to announce that we haven’t just adapted to survive — we have adapted to thrive,” Webb said. “We embraced our motto, ‘The Friendly City,’ and we made sure that everyone knew that everyone was welcome in Hazel Park, regardless of sexual orientation, race, religion or political affiliation. All we ask is that everyone obey the law and be respectful of others.”

The mayor said the city was able to survive thanks to millages passed by residents during the lean years of the Great Recession, and by city employees who took cuts during those tough times.

“Our administration scrambled to find innovative solutions to keep Hazel Park alive and moving forward. We can now see how those efforts paid off, with Hazel Park now developing a regional reputation as one of metro Detroit’s emerging hotspots,” Webb said. “Our residential, commercial and industry property values are experiencing some of the strongest growth among Oakland County communities. Our housing stock is growing and diversifying. Crime remains low, and we continue to provide excellent city services.”

He said the city also continues to partner with the Hazel Park Public Schools on efforts to keep the district safe, to improve youth recreation programs, and to provide educational opportunities through the Hazel Park Promise Zone, which helps send resident graduates to college.

The city also continues to seek grants, and recently secured funds for improvements at both Green Acres Park and the Hazel Park Recreation Center, as well as to create a pop-up business center on the south end of John R Road. The city is also working on efforts to secure funding to address lead water line replacement, lighting upgrades, pension fund relief and bike lanes.

“Our Building Department is the busiest it’s ever been,” Webb said, pointing to nearly 700 new building permits for residential and commercial improvements in the past two years, including more than 30 new homes and 45 new condos.

After the raceway closed at the corner of 10 Mile and Dequindre roads, the city worked with Ashley Capital to redevelop the property into the Tri-County Commerce Center, which today features two electric battery companies — LG Electronics and Akasol Inc. — as well as other high-tech companies such as Dakkota Integrated Systems, Hi-Lex Controls Inc. and Mayville Engineering Company, Inc. Down the street from them is Exlterra, a green technology company that was cleaning radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear plant area before Russia invaded Ukraine.

“These companies are building the sustainable future, and we’re so happy they’re here in Hazel Park,” Webb said.

The mayor pointed to renovations at Hazel Park businesses such as Tony’s Ace Hardware and Doug’s Delight, as well as the opening of two new coffee shops, Java Hut and Hazel Perk. He also highlighted the continued success of local eateries such as Mabel Gray, Frame and Loui’s Pizza.

“I’m excited about our future,” he said. “Discussions are underway with our administration as we speak to redevelop the old CVS on John R, and another developer is currently beginning the process of developing the property north of the site. When completed, these projects will completely change the face of Hazel Park.”

The sale of the derelict Landmark Community Church will also provide an opportunity for new housing developments in the city, he said.

“It is truly an exciting time to be in Hazel Park,” Webb said. “The state of Hazel Park is strong.”

Alissa Sullivan, a member of the Hazel Park City Council, said after the speech that she appreciated the Chamber of Commerce’s work organizing the event.

“I think that going forward, I’m anticipating some of the new developments that we hope to see happen in our community, and I think those are really going to change the perspective that people have on development in our community,” Sullivan said.

She pointed to the future addition of Corktown Health — an LGBTQ-focused health center to be located on John R Road north of Nine Mile Road — as one example.

“They also offer classes and other resources. They’ve even hosted health events at our rec center before, such as a (COVID) vaccine clinic,” Sullivan said. “They will be a great resource for our community and surrounding communities.”

She said she is also personally working on initiatives that she hopes will improve transparency in government, including easier access to council agendas, and more messaging about meetings and ways for residents to provide feedback.

“I want us to give people more access to information, so they can see what we’re working on, and also opportunities to ask questions about it, because I think public engagement is so important in how a city leads and develops itself,” Sullivan said.