Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett delivers his annual State of the City address at Innovation Hills Park Aug. 25.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett delivers his annual State of the City address at Innovation Hills Park Aug. 25.

Photo provided by the city of Rochester Hills

State of city address focuses on Rochester Hills’ quality of life investments

Residents to decide park bond ballot proposal in November

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 8, 2021


ROCHESTER HILLS — For the first time, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett delivered his State of the City address outside, at the city’s first new park development in 25 years, Innovation Hills.

Last year, the mayor of 15 years shared his address virtually, on an empty stage, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he was thrilled to deliver this year’s address in person at the park Aug. 25, bringing back his usual flashy entertainment — including aerialists, a drum line, a DJ and a huge display of fireworks — to wow crowds.

“Let me begin by telling you this: Clearly and unequivocally, the state of our city is strong, resilient and thriving,” Barnett said.

A big part of the city’s success, according to Barnett, is that city leaders believe in constantly investing in quality of life measures for residents.

“This incredible new park is a perfect example of that,” he said.

Innovation Hills first opened to the public in October 2019 with the first phase of the multiyear project complete — including the construction of various lakes, glow-in-the-dark sidewalks, boardwalks and trails in a 110-acre public space.

With the second phase recently completed, Barnett announced the opening of the park’s 3-acre, nature-themed universal play area for youth of all abilities.

“From the glow-in-the-dark pathways around the pond to the beautiful boardwalks that wind through untouched wetlands and hardwood forests to the coolest new playground in Michigan that will open tonight for the first time, this park is truly magical,” he said.

Building Innovation Hills Park was “relatively simple” and “universally complex at the same time,” according to Barnett. The playground includes a custom-built multistory treehouse with a locally themed bridge, over 20 unique play elements, two pavilions, and a flowing splash river that mimics the course of the actual Clinton River cutting through the park. The treehouse has climbing access from the ground level, but also a unique second story accessed via a bridge from a higher elevation to allow individuals with mobility challenges to enter at the second story, without having to climb or crawl.

Rochester Hills resident Kyle Southern, who has lived in the city for 35 years, tested out one of the disc swings at the park with a friend.

“The playground wasn’t ready when my grandkids visited in June. They usually visit once a year, so I can’t wait to bring them back here next summer,” she said.

In the spring, the city appealed to the community to help it raise $50,000 for the chance to earn a $50,000 matching grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for the park playground. Barnett said the response to the crowdfunding campaign was overwhelming, raising $106,246 from 402 donors who donated between $1 and $15,000. Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital and the Ascension Providence Rochester Foundation recently contributed $500,000 to sponsor boardwalks and extend the boardwalk trail system at the park.

Last year, park attendance citywide was up 300%, and car counts this year at the parks are already over 30% higher than they were at the same time last year.  

“We’ve never been busier,” Barnett said. “Which is one of the reasons our City Council recently passed a resolution to place a proposal on the upcoming Nov. 2 ballot.”

The ballot proposal, Barnett explained, would repurpose money the city has been collecting for the Older Persons’ Commission building debt — which is now paid off — to provide upgrades to the city’s park system facilities, without raising taxes.

The mayor also touted the changes that have taken place along Auburn Road — including the $12 million Auburn Road corridor project, which improved safety while creating a downtown district atmosphere, including more parking options, outdoor seating, lighting, a pocket park and the city’s first splash pad.

While there has been plenty of new development, Barnett said Rochester Hills has never forgotten its roots. The city recently celebrated the grand reopening of the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm — which features a new roof on the dairy barn, a new equipment barn, new exhibits, and public tours of the dairy and bull barns.

Roads have also remained a focus in the city, with approximately $30 million spent on road and street reconstruction the last two years — including about $17 million on major roads such as Livernois, John R and Auburn, and $13 million on local streets. A “massive” road project for Rochester Hills and Oakland County will soon update bottlenecks at the Avon and Dequindre roads intersection, improving pedestrian access to and safety in places like Yates Cider Mill and Yates Park.

The city’s building department has never been busier, Barnett explained, adding that the city has seen a 156% increase in new house permits, a 243% increase in total construction value over the last six years, and a 62% increase in the number of inspections performed.

“Those inspections are now up to 125 a day over the past two months,” he said. “Folks, we’ve never seen numbers like this.”

Although COVID-19 brought with it many challenges over the past year, Barnett said Rochester Hills witnessed what it means to be a community.

“We’ve been challenged and we’ve been changed, but we’ve emerged more resilient, more grateful, more optimistic, more hopeful, more intentional, more empathic, more compassionate, more resourceful and more innovative,” he said.

The city, he said, has come together, and despite intense and unprecedented challenges, it has remained “the preeminent place to live, work and raise your family.”

“I can’t wait to see what’s next,” Barnett added.

Rochester Hills Councilman Ryan Deel said he thought the park was the perfect location for the State of the City address.

“I can’t think of a better backdrop to talk about the successes of our city than right here in Innovation Hills,” Deel said. “It’s so nice to see so many of our residents come out and have an opportunity to celebrate.”

Innovation Hills Park is located north of Hamlin Road, east of Adams Road. The park is free and open to the public 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

For more information, contact the mayor’s office at (248) 656-4664 or visit