Pontiac -- Mayor Deirdre Waterman highlighted how the city is on the rise 10 months after emerging from state oversight.

The mayor noted how Pontiac has overcome obstacles and created a multimillion-dollar surplus, a gain in businesses and improvements in the neighborhoods.

“We have worked valiantly to come back from the depths of financial crisis,” the mayor said between applause at the Crofoot.

The State of the City address was titled “Still I Rise” — a nod to the famous inspirational poem by acclaimed writer Maya Angelou.

As recently as four years ago the city had what was considered the world’s largest inventory of vacant General Motors properties, Waterman said. Today, there are fewer than five lots.

“That’s a good thing for Pontiac as we’re moving forward,” Waterman said.

Her remarks came less than a year came after the Michigan Department of Treasury announced that the Oakland County community had been released from financial receivership and would immediately regain control of operations and finances.

The state declared a financial emergency in Pontiac in 2009. Under three emergency city managers, the city dramatically cut expenses, chopped its workforce from 500 to 30, and combined or removed some departments.

The state restored power to its elected mayor and council in March 2016 after the city's finances improved.

As Pontiac exercises more autonomy, key measures such as innovative development agreements and streamlined building/safety planning procedures have helped draw more economic opportunities, Waterman said.

“In spite of everything that’s happened, still we rise,” said Thomas Kimble, immediate past president of the Michigan AARP.

Among the highlights: Aerospace engineering firm Williams International relocated from Commerce Township and is planning to invest as much as $1.5 billion in the city. Mortgage company United Shore is bringing 2,400 employees from Troy. And the Village at Bloomfield development is under construction and could include planned 430 market-rate housing units, the mayor said.

“We love attracting these kind of businesses from other communities,” said Waterman, who was elected to a second term in November.

The speech encouraged longtime residents such as Lucy Payne, who hoped the city could compete with neighboring communities for lucrative ventures.

“The city is growing, and I think we have the right leadership,” Payne said. “This is an opportunity to encourage our youth to live in a city that is prosperous.”

The mayor also mentioned proposed litigation settlements connected to retiree health care benefits and the city-owned Phoenix Center parking garage. The legal developments are removing roadblocks to Pontiac’s progress, Waterman said.

“We’ve done well in settling the litigation … and that is great news for the city," she said. 

Pontiac also is working to resurrect city-sponsored youth recreation activities by identifying a recreation center site and satellite gym locations, Waterman said. Voters approved a youth recreation millage in 2016.

Ongoing plans for city stability include linking residents to employers through the Pontiac Jobs Pipeline; exploring partnerships with nonprofits and philanthropic efforts; as well as maintaining fiscally responsible strategies, the mayor said. “We need to stay on the right path. We’ve established that and we need to continue to move forward.”

The event also honored recipients of the 2018 Neighborhood Empowerment Awards. The program funds $200,000 annually in sustainable public works improvements proposed by nonprofit associations and neighborhood groups throughout the city.\

This year’s awards were granted to 15 groups, including the Oakland County Pioneer Historical Society and GM Modern Housing.

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