Mayors tout investments, growth in State of the City speeches

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published March 18, 2024

 Hazel Park Mayor Mike Webb

Hazel Park Mayor Mike Webb

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein

Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — A day after President Joe Biden gave his State of the Union address, the mayors of Madison Heights and Hazel Park spoke to each city’s standing in 2024.

The speeches took place March 8 in a spacious facility at defense contractor Navistar Defense in Madison Heights. The 2024 State of the Cities Addresses were organized by the Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce, along with Oakland Thrive and the Michigan Defense Center, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Patriotic music blared from loudspeakers beside a podium set against a tapestry of red, white and blue curtains, flanked by a row of armored transports gleaming under fluorescent lights. Those in attendance included a who’s who of elected local and state officials, department heads and business leaders.

Mike Webb, the mayor of Hazel Park, spoke first, followed by Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights. Each said there was much to celebrate, with new investments spurring growth that will bode well for each town’s finances and quality of life.


Webb: Cooperation is the key to success
“2023 was another exciting year for the city of Hazel Park, and we expect 2024 to be even better,” began Webb. “We welcomed new businesses, and watched existing businesses grow. We received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, and we’re working to put those funds to use to serve our residents. We have exciting new recreation opportunities, and we are upgrading our community recreation center for the first time in decades. We are working collaboratively with other cities, as well as the state of Michigan and Oakland County government, to improve services and continue to be fiscally responsible with Hazel Park’s tax dollars.”

He said that Hazel Park prides itself on being “open for business,” pointing to a five-star rating from the University of Michigan’s eCities program — the highest possible score in a comprehensive study that assesses the business climate in communities across the state. The study is specifically concerned with whether a community has business-friendly policies.

The mayor rattled off a list of businesses that opened in the city last year, including Shredderz, Craft Salon, Chop Detroit at Viking Arena, United Staffing Agency and Flawless Fur, among others. BorgWarner, a major player in the electric battery industry, acquired Akasol, which operates out of the Tri-County Commerce Center at 10 Mile and Dequindre roads — formerly the Hazel Park Raceway — and continues to develop new technology in Hazel Park.

Webb also announced some good news for two established businesses: the award-winning restaurant Mabel Gray and the environmental technology firm Exlterra. James Rigato, the founder and head chef at Mabel Gray, is planning an expansion in Hazel Park called “La Cave,” while Exlterra — which was cleaning up radiation at the Chernobyl disaster site prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — is working on new technologies the company says could revolutionize the agriculture industry.

Last year saw the sale of the city’s Viking Ice Arena to Black Bear Group for $2.9 million. Privatizing the ice arena will place the facility on Hazel Park’s tax rolls, Webb said, and the site should benefit from the new ownership of proven ice arena managers, who have pledged to keep the location operating as an ice arena in the community.

On the housing front, Robertson Brothers recently completed a 54-unit condo housing project, while Milford Singer & Co. has acquired the dilapidated Landmark Community Church property with plans to create a new 160-unit housing project featuring a mixture of single-family detached homes, attached homes and apartment options.

“Vacant residential lots are in high demand by developers, who are continuing to build new homes across our city,” Webb said.

The mayor noted that last year saw the city focus on Hazel Park’s south end, which recently had a road diet implemented that improved walkability in the area. He said that businesses such as Eastern Palace Club and Smoked Lotus — the site of last year’s State of the Cities Address — continue to be successful, and that Hazel Perk Cafe — one of the newer venues in town — is gaining a popular following. Webb said that he is also looking forward to the rollout of Pop-Up Hazel Park, a grant-funded storefront opportunity for new startup businesses.

“This year, we will try to replicate some of that success on the north end of the community, as we implement a road diet to create a more walkable community in that area,” Webb said.

The mayor praised the work of city administration for finding new ways to fund pension relief, construction projects, tree plantings, recreational programming and city services.

“Our administration, led by City Manager Ed Klobucher, has been amazingly successful when it comes to tapping into an array of public and private grant opportunities in the past couple of years,” Webb said.

“Cooperation is key,” he continued, after a video presentation on businesses in the community. “Hazel Park’s legislative team worked to assist the Michigan Municipal League’s Legislative Relations team to achieve pension fund relief, and those efforts brought over $12 million dollars to Hazel Park’s MERS (Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Michigan) pension program, which will hopefully blunt the impact of any future pension contribution increases, We were also able to achieve some modest replacement of revenue sharing payments, as well.”

He highlighted the city’s new partnership with Madison Heights, Ferndale and Royal Oak on a co-responder program that will enable trained mental health professionals to respond and follow up to mental health crises. He thanked Melissa Marsh, the city manager of Madison Heights, for her efforts mobilizing the four communities to implement the project. Webb also thanked Klobucher for his work with Dave Woodward — chair of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners — to secure county funds for the program.

“We also look forward to working with Madison Heights and our dedicated state representative, Mike McFall, to push the state of Michigan to secure federal funding to cover our EMS costs by participating in the federal Ground Emergency Medical Transport program,” Webb said. “The state’s refusal to participate in the program is costing cities in Michigan millions of dollars in reimbursements.”

Other grant opportunities have included multiple grants awarded from Oakland County to the city’s Recreation Department, including $300,000 for the recreation center and $400,000 for Green Acres Park. The city recently completed construction on a new playscape at Green Acres Park that is set to open this spring.

“This is the first serious upgrade to Hazel Park’s largest park in over 30 years,” Webb said. “Our late county commissioner, Gary McGillivray, was instrumental in helping Hazel Park win these grants, as was County Executive (Dave) Coulter, Board Chair (Dave) Woodward, and Oakland County Parks Director Chris Ward.

“Again, cooperation is key,” he continued. “The city of Hazel Park is also partnering with the Hazel Park school district to improve recreation opportunities for our community’s young people. The jointly funded Junior Vikings sports program has been wildly popular with our youth, restoring football and cheerleading programs, and helping fund our amazing youth wrestling program. Look for even more sports and recreation opportunities to be added in the near future — not just for our youth, but for people of all ages.”

On the topic of recreation, he noted that Hazel Park is also on schedule in the preconstruction phase of managing a federal grant-funded project that will transform the underutilized pole barn next to the Recreation Department into a new community meeting space.

“This project will add much needed space for community groups and events hosted in our area,” Webb said. “Speaking of community groups, we couldn’t run our city without our dedicated volunteers. I want to thank all the people of Hazel Park who donate their time to make our city a better place.”

He cited groups such as the Hazel Park Lions Club and the Hazel Park Eagles, as well as the public safety efforts of the police reserves, the beautification work of the Flower Club and others.

He also thanked members of the city’s administration, as well as his peers on the council.

“Hazel Park is the best place to work, live and raise a family,” Webb concluded. “The city of Hazel Park is strong, and we’re not going anywhere.”

After the speech, Andy LeCureaux — a long-serving member of the Hazel Park City Council who has held his role since 2001 — said the biggest highlight in his view is the development planned for the site of the former Landmark Community Church.

“That will be one of the largest developments in the history of Hazel Park,” LeCureaux said. “The property just changed hands, so there’s no permits pulled yet. They have to submit the plans, and then there’s the brownfield money and applications for that, and the permits to demolish what’s a big piece of property including the building and parking lot and school there. But we could see something start this year. When it’s complete, it will bring the property back onto our tax rolls. It’s a way to build our tax base through new construction. And there’s a real need for homes in the area.”

He also said he’s excited for the road diet on the north end of John R Road.

“Sometimes we hear negativity when things change, because people are nervous about that, but I think it’s good to look at the north end like we did the south end and consider new modes of transportation for walking and biking. It spurred development in the south; it encouraged people to walk more, and it benefited business in the area. Hopefully the north end will see similar results.”


Grafstein: Delivering on the ‘American Dream’
“I’m happy to report that the state of our city is strong,” began Grafstein. “We understand that investing in our community and working with residents and businesses are key to our long-term sustainability and success. With this in mind, we’re taking the time to make much-needed changes to update our zoning ordinance to make it more user-friendly, and include features to continue to make Madison Heights attractive for investment and development.”

She said the Madison Heights community is diverse with people of different religions, histories and cultures. Some came to America with dreams of a better life, she said, while others came here fleeing war or prosecution. She then shared her own story as an immigrant.

“I never dreamed 20 years ago when I moved from Canada to Madison Heights that not only would I grow to love the community, but that I would participate as one of our leaders, helping to bring forth positive growth and prosperity,” Grafstein said. She added it was an honor to say so on March 8, which was International Women’s Day.

She said her pursuit of the American Dream started in 2004 when she moved from Toronto and was married by the late Madison Heights Mayor Ed Swanson in what is now the dining space of the new Active Adult Center. The American Dream not only includes freedom, safety and security for all people regardless of background or social status, she said, but also securing new opportunities for future generations, and improving quality of life.

She described the range of capital improvements made last year as “unprecedented,” including upgrades to facilities, parks and infrastructure — chief among them, the completion of a multimillion-dollar reworking of Civic Center Plaza on 13 Mile Road west of John R Road, featuring a renovated City Hall and library, and the construction of a brand-new Active Adult Center. The same project also included improvements to Fire Station No. 2, located off-campus on John R Road.

“In 2018, a year after I was elected to council and about a month after we appointed Melissa Marsh to be our city manager, she and I were in the library parking lot talking about some of the issues at our Active Adult Center. I looked to the empty spot between the library and City Hall and asked, ‘Why not just sell the property and build a new center there?’ Fast-forward five years, a global pandemic, many meetings with many public votes, a total of 12 different council members, a year and a half of construction, and $14.2 million later, and in the fall of 2023, we had our final grand opening and ribbon cutting — one that brought my mother in from Canada to help celebrate,” Grafstein said. “Ultimately, this project has not only helped to increase participation in programming, but is also decreasing our energy footprint.”

Grafstein said that Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County will bring nearly $1 million in home repairs for eligible homeowners this spring as part of the “Rock the Block” program in partnership with the city. She said the city has been focused on revitalizing neighborhoods, with nearly 600 building permits processed by the city in 2023 — a notable increase from the year prior, she said — and with completed construction values reaching $4.6 million, nearly five times the amount recorded in 2022.

She said that a $75,000 grant from the state’s Housing Development Authority allowed the city to complete 16 minor home repair projects. She also lauded last year’s opening of Red Run Reserve, which added more than 130 homes for those ages 55 and older.

“Looking at the big picture, 2023 brought significant growth in residential and commercial development, demonstrating our commitment to creating opportunities for everyone,” Grafstein said.

On the business front, she noted new additions last year such as the family friendly Dinoland, electric car company Rivian, and Feel Good Cookies. Others saw improvements, such as Celina’s Bar & Grill, which completed its new patio, and Natalie’s Bakery, which relocated and expanded.

“Next year, Madison Heights will be 70 years old, and there have been a lot of changes here in the last seven decades,” Grafstein said. “But through it all, in true American tradition, Madison Heights remains a place where community matters. Our local businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, providing jobs and services that contribute to the vitality of our city.”

Last year also saw the start of a new streetscaping plan around 11 Mile and John R roads that aims to make the area more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.

“I can’t wait to see this area transform in the upcoming years,” Grafstein said.

She said she’s also looking forward to the new bandshell being built at Civic Center Park with a $250,000 grant from Consumers Energy. The goal is to have it operational in time for the Pre-Fourth of July Festival in the Park.

On the topic of holidays, she praised the nonprofit Madison Heights Citizens United for its work on the Juneteenth Celebration at Civic Center Park, saying it promotes racial reconciliation. She also commended other community groups such as the Environmental Citizens Committee with its ongoing tree plantings, and the Arts Board with its work on Trail Tunes, art installations and more.

She also recalled dedications of public facilities in honor of several key community members, including the youth library room named in honor of the late councilman Robert Corbett, the renaming of the pavilion at Monroe Park in honor of the late councilman Bob Gettings, and also the renaming of Twelve-Sherry Park after Gary McGillivray, the late Oakland County commissioner, who lived to see the dedication in August before dying in November.

On a less somber note, Grafstein said she was honored last summer to greet Jack Huffman as the military veteran neared the end of a two-month-long cross-country walk raising awareness for the Fallen and Wounded Soldiers Fund. The mayor presented Huffman with a giant check for more than $1,200 donated by local businesses.

“Standing here in a business dedicated to the defense of our country, I know that you more than others understand the importance of security and public safety,” Grafstein said in reference to the event venue, Navistar Defense. “Be it of our country or our city, everyone has the right to feel safe and secure.”

After the speech, Mark Bliss, the mayor pro tem of Madison Heights, shared his thoughts.

“As Mayor Grafstein shared in her speech, Madison Heights is on a great path,” Bliss said in an email. “This hyperinflation has been incredibly difficult to manage, both with rising costs and less economic development projects in the pipeline. But we’ve met the challenge by leveraging more grants and business partnerships than we have in decades. Our volunteer organizations are also thriving … getting special shoutouts from Mayor Grafstein for their incredible efforts to bring free and low-cost programming to our residents.

“No year is ever easy on council, and the challenges we face now are unlike anything I’ve seen since I was elected (in 2013), with all of our monthly grocery bills looking more like a mortgage payment,” he said. “But our strategic plan keeps us focused and ready to take advantage of grant opportunities that will help our residents. There’s optimism in City Hall, and we’ll continue to do all we can to keep moving forward.”