Waterford Township — The boarded-up Summit Place Mall, on the border of Pontiac and Waterford Township, has been an ugly and costly headache for nearly a decade. That could change, following a DTE proposal discussed Thursday by the Waterford Township Planning Commission.

Details still are under discussion but DTE Energy is considering whether it could convert a portion of the former Sears department store, which sits on 24 acres and is attached to the mall, into a 50,000-square-foot regional storage facility.

John Erb, manager of corporate real estate for DTE, told the commission 200 DTE employees — engineers, planners and work crews in county would be shifted there — and use the building to respond to service repair work throughout the county.

“It will be a 24/7 operation,” Erb said. “… peak hours will be between 7:30 to 8:30 in the morning, when crews are getting their assignments, and 3 to 4:30 (p.m.) when they return at the end of the day.”

Some officials, like Planning Commissioner Anthony Bartolotta, believe the plan could finally “kickstart” investment and the reuse of the crumbling 100-plus-acre site, which closed in 2009 and has become a magnet to scrappers, vandals and others. 

“We all know its days as a shopping center or for retailing are long over,” said
Bartolotta, also a township trustee, who attended the meeting. “But if this is eventually approved, it could signal to other potential developers that it would be a good place for them to invest or expand existing business.

“I believe that would be a good thing for the township and for Oakland County,” he said.

Bartolotta and others on the commission had reservations about how outdoor storage of wire rolls, telephone poles, even service trucks will be handled.

“I know of another storage lot nearby that is junked up,” said Bartolotta. “I don’t want to see that in the township and I think it would hurt the potential for other investment. But the renderings they have shown us of their enclosed center, and outside storage and parking for trucks, is very impressive.”

Erb said he would have to huddle with others to determine how much of the outdoor storage could be covered. Township attorney Gary Dovre suggested to the commission to indefinitely postpone a decision on the initial plans until DTE submitted new plans that take into consideration some concerns.

The Sears property DTE is looking at is independently owned by Southfield-based Arie-El Enterprises.

“We are looking forward to working with them to make this happen,” said Larry Lockwood, the township’s superintendent of the Planning and Zoning Division. “It seems like a realistic re-use of the property.”

Summit Place, which opened in 1963 and was the state’s first enclosed mall, once boasted 200 tenants, including six anchor stores, a movie theater, restaurants and specialty stores. But declining fortunes of tenants, including bankruptcies, and changing public tastes saw the mall erode into a dangerous eyesore cited for electrical and other safety hazards.

Several proposals — a minor-league ball park, a children’s entertainment center and water park — never got off the ground due to insufficient funding. Meanwhile, the township has seen a potential source of tax dollars sit idle.  While thousands once flocked to the mall, located at Telegraph and Elizabeth Lake roads, in the past decade for their shopping needs, in recent years the only ones headed there were scrappers and vandals breaking inside or police and township building officials writing citations for multiple building and safety violations.

Under the DTE plan,  the utility company would be responsible for paying the expense to level Sears. 

Under the township’s dangerous building ordinances, it has sued SD Capital, a California company that owns the majority of Summit Place, to demolish the buildings. The matter remains in litigation.

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