Hope building for dormant Bloomfield Park project

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

The long-dormant Bloomfield Park, an unfinished eyesore along Telegraph Road, may soon be revived.

Officials in Bloomfield Township and Pontiac are renewing discussions on what to do with the land. A Southfield real estate investment and development firm gained rights to the property last fall.

Once envisioned as 80 acres of residences, retail stores and parks, the Bloomfield Park project has been at a standstill since 2008.

A three-member Joint Development Council has been revamped, with members from Bloomfield Township and Pontiac searching for a third, neutral member. The council will examine and vote on any plans developer Redico submits for Bloomfield Park, a once-touted $500 million development that straddles more than 80 acres mainly in Pontiac north of Square Lake.

The involvement of Redico and the formation of the development council are among the first signs of life in a project that stalled in 2008, after skeletons of a parking structure and some buildings were erected.

Officials expect any new development to be a scaled-down version of plans announced in 2000. That ambitious plan called for 1,500 condominiums, townhouses and lofts; restaurants and retail stores; a movie theater and eight parks on land roughly the size of downtown Birmingham.

"(New plans) have not been formally presented," said Pontiac Mayor Dierdre Waterman, a member of the Joint Development Council. "But we understand through Oakland County, who also has been shepherding this process, that the plans are imminent."

Waterman sits on the joint council with Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie. They have narrowed the list of candidates for the third spot to attorney Dennis Cowan and retired Judge Gene Schnelz, Savoie said.

"I brought those two names back to our township board, and the township has given me authority to approve either one of those individuals, depending on who Pontiac might choose," he said.

Savoie said Waterman indicated she would meet with the Pontiac City Council for guidance before selecting a candidate.

"They're both very qualified and able candidates. We're in the process of determining who would be the best fit," Waterman said. "We hope to finalize that process ... within a month, best case scenario."

Savoie said the council would "have to go back to the drawing board" if neither candidate is chosen.

Brownfield designation key

Officials also will have to address turning the project into a brownfield development authority to help pay for environmental improvements. A new authority was granted last year after an earlier authority was terminated when the site fell vacant for several years, Waterman said.

"Brownfield is a type of tax abatement that relates to property that has been otherwise underutilized," she said. "It's an incentive that you give to a developer that says that we will abate your taxes for a period of time."

Waterman said the long-term benefits of a completed Bloomfield Park will outweigh the temporary loss in tax revenue.

"It's a give-and-take kind of arrangement in which you spur economic development by forgoing immediate tax collection," she said.

The Joint Development Council will need a majority vote to approve plans for the site; unanimous agreement will be required to approve plans that deviate from the original development agreement that governs the joint council, Waterman said.

Waterman and Savoie said they have agreed to bring any proposed plans for the site to officials from their communities for consideration before voting.

Savoie said he is hopeful now that there is movement on developing the site.

"My objective is to bring forth a viable project that both communities can be proud of," Savoie said. "I'm very optimistic. I think we can come up with something that really works."

The renewed interest in the site is good news for William Schwab, sommelier and co-owner of The Wine Guy at 1932 S. Telegraph, across from the development.

"We will be very happy if something happened over there," he said. "For years, we had to look at that and then there is no revenue coming from it either."

Schwab has been at his location for nearly four years. He said Bloomfield Park hasn't hurt his business — but it hasn't helped, either.

Rami Nazarian was at Biggby Coffee recently, working on his laptop. He said it is odd to see such a big development sitting vacant in Bloomfield Hills, just north of thriving businesses such as Costco and T.J. Maxx, on a major thoroughfare.

The once-touted $500 million development straddles more than 80 acres, mainly in Pontiac north of Square Lake.

Redico takes charge

Formation of the Joint Development Council comes about four months after Redico announced it had acquired the foreclosure judgment and mortgage rights over the property.

Company officials said in October that Redico intended to gain possession of the land through the foreclosure process, which could take six months to a year. In the meantime, Redico is exploring plans for the site, director of marketing Jacqueline Trost said last week. Once the company gains ownership, it will work with the Joint Development Council to get a plan approved.

Trost declined to elaborate on plans for the site, other than saying Redico anticipated a mixed-use development.

Original developer Craig Schubiner spent a decade amassing more than 80 acres for what he envisioned as a New Urbanism project — a city-within-a-city, where residents live, work and shop in one place.

The project, however, was fraught with challenges: It was rejected by Bloomfield Township officials, much of the land was annexed into Pontiac, two lawsuits were filed and the state attorney general investigated claims of voter fraud.

hfournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

Detroit News Staff Writers Jennifer Chambers and Ursula Watson contributed.

Bloomfield Park history

■September 2000: Plans are announced for multi-million-dollar development by The Harbor Cos. on 80 acres in Bloomfield Township that would include six high-rises.

December 2000: Bloomfield Township rejects a request to change zoning requirements regarding building heights, ending the project's chances there and prompting annexation talks between Pontiac and the developer.

September 2001: Bloomfield Township voters who live on the land, all of whom are registered to vote in addresses owned by the developer, vote 14-8 to support annexation. Voters in the city of Pontiac also vote for annexation.

December 2002: Pontiac and Bloomfield Township settle lawsuits with a deal that lets Pontiac keep the property and gives Bloomfield Township a share of tax revenue.

September 2004: Pontiac approves a plan to allow the developer to use up to $68.2 million in future taxes for the installation of utilities, roads and other public infrastructure.

October 2005: Sales office and billboard signs on Telegraph announce Bloomfield Park is coming.

November 2008: Site abandoned during construction.

October 2014: Southfield-based real estate firm Redico announces it has acquired foreclosure judgment and mortgage rights.

Early 2015: Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie and Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman seek a neutral person to join the three-person Joint Development Council tasked with approving plans for the site.

Source: Detroit News archives