As Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak, center, looks on, Detroit Police Cmdr. Eric Ewing, of the 5th Precinct, speaks about the cooperation between the departments and presents Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni, at right, with a challenge coin during an open house for the City’s new public safety building Aug. 29.

As Grosse Pointe City Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak, center, looks on, Detroit Police Cmdr. Eric Ewing, of the 5th Precinct, speaks about the cooperation between the departments and presents Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni, at right, with a challenge coin during an open house for the City’s new public safety building Aug. 29.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Residents, Grosse Pointe City leaders celebrate opening of public safety building on Mack

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 8, 2020

 Poloni unveils the dedication plaque on the new public safety building.

Poloni unveils the dedication plaque on the new public safety building.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

GROSSE POINTE CITY — The last time Grosse Pointe City officials gathered at the corner of St. Clair and Mack avenues — for a groundbreaking on May 3, 2019 — the site of the future Public Safety Department was little more than an empty lot.

Over a year later, it has been completely transformed. On Aug. 29, dozens of residents and officials gathered for an open house at 17320 Mack Ave. for the new public safety building.

“This building is the culmination of years of study, work and effort on the part of City staff and several City Councils,” Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak said. “Our original firehouse, built in the 1920s, had exhausted its lifespan. The building was obsolete and far too small. It couldn’t even be renovated to accommodate a modern fire truck.”

The Mack site was formerly occupied by Alger Deli and Liquor, a beloved community institution for 43 years. It was owned and operated by the Donaldson family, and when they decided they were interested in retiring, they approached City officials about selling the property to the City for a new public safety building. The store closed circa January 2018.

Detroit Police Cmdr. Eric Ewing of the 5th Precinct was on hand for the opening and thanked the City “for investing in policing” in the community.

“We’ll be right next door to work with you every day,” Ewing said.

City officials say they’re happy to be part of revitalization along Mack Avenue, which borders Detroit. The City is a partner in the Mack Avenue Corridor Improvement Plan, along with Detroit, Grosse Pointe Park and Grosse Pointe Farms.

“We believe that this multimillion dollar investment will spur further economic development that will benefit every business in the corridor and all of the surrounding neighborhoods,” Tomkowiak said. “We have already seen this public investment lead to private investment in the form of new businesses, and we believe that will continue.”

Tomkowiak thanked current and former mayors and councils, the Donaldson family, and donors who made possible elements like the plaza in front of the building.

The plaza includes the 6 o’clock bell, which Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni said was removed from the old public safety building’s cupola and restored. The bell is so named because firefighters used to ring it daily at 6 p.m., Poloni said. The building also features plaques honoring officers who died in the line of duty.

“We’re just really excited about this state-of-the-art facility that will make our officers more efficient,” Poloni said.

Among the improvements are the addition of a sally port so that arrestees can be taken directly from a patrol vehicle into the public safety building; a training tower where Poloni said officers can engage in “real, scenario-based” fire training with their mutual aid partners; an evidence processing area; and a decontamination unit where officers can clean up and wash equipment after a fire.

Deputy Director John Alcorn said “it’s exciting” to be moving into the new building.

“The building that we’re coming from to here — it’s a night and day difference,” he said.

Even when Alcorn started with the department 20 years ago, there were problems. He recalls putting sheets over the couches because the stuffing was coming out and constantly cleaning up pieces of falling drywall.

One new piece of training equipment the department is especially excited to have is a computer simulation in which officers have to respond to a wide range of virtual situations, including incidents of domestic violence and barricaded gunmen. Sgt. J.P. Cormier, who was demonstrating the technology for visitors as officer Robert Saleski responded to virtual incidents, said that there are more than 300 different scenarios programmed into the computer, and the officer behind the computer keyboard can change the reaction of the suspect based on the reaction of the officer responding to the scenario. Cormier said all of the scenarios are based on real incidents.

“This is not a videogame,” Cormier said. “This will save lives.”

Because they respond jointly to fire and other emergency scenes through their mutual aid pact, public safety departments in the other Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods will also be using the City’s new training amenities. Farms Public Safety Director Daniel Jensen, who attended the open house, said this means officers likely won’t have to travel to local police academies anymore for training.

“The vast majority of training can be done here,” Jensen said. “It’s an excellent facility. … We look forward to continued training with everybody.”

Grosse Pointe Park Mayor Robert Denner, who was also present for the open house, said the ability of the six departments to be able to train together will improve the effectiveness of all of them.

“The training facility for fire and police is second to none, and with our mutual aid agreement, the departments will be able to do cross-training,” Denner said. “The mutual aid program has been a great success story. They work tremendously well together, and a facility like this will only enhance that.”

One of the City’s consultants, David Gassen — a principal with Partners in Architecture — was among those at the open house.

Gassen said he was “incredibly happy with the way it turned out.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, City Manager Pete Dame said the project was completed “on schedule” and “with no real problems.”

Gassen said the public safety building came in “under budget,” although Dame said there was no specific “dollar amount” for public safety, because the voter-approved bond for City facilities only has an overall guaranteed maximum. After making some revisions to bring costs in line, Gassen in 2018 said they were able to reduce the cost for the public safety building from $6.2 million to $5.75 million.

Narrowly approved by voters in August 2017, the 23-year bond proposal is not to exceed $12.96 million for new public safety and public works facilities, as well as improved municipal court safety. Court offices and a revamped municipal courtroom will be constructed in the old public safety building, with work to start soon, now that the Public Safety Department has moved to its new home. Work on the DPW is already well underway, although a completion date hadn’t been finalized at press time.

The old public safety building, at 17145 Maumee Ave., was constructed in 1928. An addition on the back, built circa the 1990s, became home to the municipal court and City Council meetings. The addition has been torn down to make room for DPW, City Hall and court parking.

Officers expected to be completely moved into the new building by early September.