Royal Oak's $100M plan for new city hall draws a crowd

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
Renderings of the proposed $100 million city hall/police headquarters/parking garage complex in Royal Oak.

Royal Oak — A $100 million project that would include a new city hall, commercial offices, parking structure, police station and park downtown got a mostly favorable reception Monday night from residents who packed a city commission meeting.

The crowd filled the commission chambers, plus an adjacent meeting room where a presentation about the public-private project was played over a large-screen TV.

The proposed project is a mixed-use, seven-story terraced office building, a 550-space, six-story parking structure and a stand-alone police department next to the 44th District Court, east of Main Street and south of 11 Mile..

The development, to be financed equally by private and public funds, is believed to be the largest project of its type in the city’s history. Monday night’s public meeting was the first of several expected over the next few months.

About 100 people remained till the end of the nearly four-hour meeting, many wanting to comment on the plans. Almost all were excited by some aspect of the project and looked forward to the changes -- especially creation of a park in the downtown business district.

"The office building is a no-brainer," said John Corradt, owner of The Rock On Third bar, directly across from where the seven-story office building will be built.

"I just hope the commission will leave no stone unturned."

Others expressed concerns, like S.R. Bolland, who described the public response as "like a love fest."

"I represent the disgruntled minority," said Bolland. "I moved here in 2003 and seen an increasing disregard for history and ambiance which initially attracted people to Royal Oak. I see a blandness.

"I like the park idea and police need a new building but this (old city Hall) is a fine building and its facade has character," he said. "What they are talking about is just an office building -- with the look of a Red Robin or Applebee's. It should be something you are proud of.

"But developers get what they want -- they should be fined for some of the things they put up that we are forced to look at."

Another, Daniel Toranson, said he can't understand the concept of the city building anything it isn't going to own -- especially when it involves the equivalent of "making a three-bedroom ranch into Buckingham Palace." He asked his officials to "think long and hard" about plans and not be blinded by "sparkle and glitz,"

Under the plan, the city would rent out about 20,000 square feet of a new 120,000-square-foot building that would replace the current city hall, which is considered obsolete and fraught with problems.

“This project will not involve any new taxes or millage,” said City Manager Don Johnson, who said bonds and general funds would finance the city’s portion of the project.

Toranson was skeptical.

"It isn't going to cost the taxpayers anything? I don't believe it," he said, noting taxpayers recently were asked to pass millages for police and roads.

"Now we suddenly have $50 million?" Toranson asked rhetorically.

Mayor Jim Ellison told the crowd that "we are in the very early process of this and there will be more opportunities for public input."

Other steps will include the formation and language of a development agreement and site plan approval.

Ellison said because the project doesn't involve any new taxes or the sale of city parkland, it will not require a public vote but just approval by the city commission.

Johnson said the city needs a new municipal facility.

The old city hall, built in 1952, has had ruptured water lines “at least seven times” in the past six years, flooding out offices and the building’s basement, he said.

Work crews were in evidence Monday still cleaning up the city clerk’s office, which moved operations to the police department building following the most recent incident.

Key to the ambitious project is the Central Park Development Group, which would provide the private investment. The group, which provided a Power Point presentation at the meeting, is made up of the Surnow Company of Birmingham, Boji Group of Lansing and RAD Development Group of Birmingham.

The envisioned city hall would be built on the current surface parking lot of the present municipal building, which would be demolished. A small amphitheater and park are proposed east of Main Street along Third.

Under the proposal, the city would retain ownership of all land currently occupied by city hall and the police department and also the proposed deck and office space on two floors of the office building.

If approved, the project would be done in phases over the next three years, with demolition completed and the park completed by summer 2019.

Developer Ron Boji said would be a true example of public-private partnership, which will not only help replace obsolete city buildings but bring an estimated 700 high-paid office workers to the city and add more than 200 much-needed parking spaces.

Joan Larson, a longtime resident, told city officials the city hall has historical background that should not be forgotten and be incorporated into any plans —including the use of yellow brick that was used on the facade of the structure.

“Maybe we should use some of the bricks and create a yellow brick road,” she said.

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