Officials expect economic development on north Van Dyke

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 2, 2017

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City officials are looking northward when it comes to anticipating some of the biggest upcoming economic changes and developments in Sterling Heights.

During an April 11 Sterling Heights City Council budget meeting, Senior Economic Development Adviser Luke Bonner offered a preview of some of the changes the city hopes to see advance in fiscal year 2017-18 with the North Van Dyke River District.

The district — which is located around Van Dyke Avenue, from 18 1/2 Mile Road to around M-59, plus some nearby properties on Utica Road — is under the oversight of a Corridor Improvement Authority board. The authority was formed in 2006 with City Council approval, Bonner said.

Bonner said the CIA’s primary goals include enhancing public spaces, promoting a consistent style, and fostering economic growth and higher property values. The desired aesthetics include the incorporation of colored, stamped concrete, fencing and landscaping, he said.

But while the CIA has been around for a decade or so, it has had its challenges. Bonner explained that it is run on the premise of tax increment financing, which depends on higher property values to help pay for district improvements.

“A lot of what has occurred during that time, unfortunately, which we have seen citywide, is a decline in property values,” he said. “So over the course of the first … seven years or so, there wasn’t a whole lot of revenue that was coming out of the Corridor Improvement Authority due to that drop in revenue.”
According to city officials, the following are a few examples of current projects within the district:

• The former Utica Transit Mix & Supply Co. site is on the verge of redevelopment so it can hold a 108,000-square-foot headquarters for an advanced manufacturing company, Bonner said. He said the confidential company is consolidating operations to the site so operations are under one roof, and he said the company reportedly plans to add as many as 80 employees over five years.

• Ultimate Hydroforming, which does sheet metal fabrication for the aerospace industry, is reportedly expanding its facilities.

• A new AutoZone auto parts store is in the works.

• The CIA has moved to acquire a former family diner property for future land use.

• Several tenants are reportedly looking at leasing for a new 73,000-square-foot “speculative industrial building.” “It’s hard to say something is speculative today, because the demand for industrial space is so high that most of these buildings end up getting leased very quickly,” Bonner said.

• According to Bonner, a confidential investor is considering building 150 housing units as part of an $18 million to $20 million mixed-use residential and commercial development.

“This is a highly desirable and catalytic project that will really change the future of the corridor,” he said. “And like I said, it’s a knock on wood. There is a lot of things that have to happen before that materializes.”

At an April 18 City Council meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool gave his own thoughts about the proposed projects in the North Van Dyke River District after saying that some people have been asking about construction activity. The CIA has tools and abilities to incentivize business development, he said.

“Some of you know, 10 years ago or so, this area was looking rather tired. It definitely needed some attention,” he said. “And so through this redevelopment district effort, we’ve been able to slowly start to reverse the downward trend out there.”

Vanderpool said the idea is to transform the district to feature more mixed uses, more living opportunities and aesthetic improvements. He said the potential mixed-use project proposal would sit where an old amusement park used to be, near the river. He said a new development would inject synergy to the area if it comes to completion.

“We have a lot of work to do on this yet, but the concepts are encouraging,” he said. “I’m quite confident this is going to come to fruition, but we have many more months of due diligence to get to an actual groundbreaking.”

Vanderpool said he hopes that the new projects will result in further interest and development in the corridor.

“Eventually, I would say in, you know, five or 10 years, we’re going to have a north Van Dyke that we’re all going to be really proud of, and it’s going to be a focal point for the community,” he said.

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