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Southfield City Council moves ahead with plans for sale of Northland site

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Southfield's City Council moved forward Monday on a proposal to redevelop the former Northland Center, voting to allow property tax exemptions for the company that plans to rehabilitate the land for apartments, restaurants and retail space. 

Northland Mall redevelopment renderings

The council unanimously approved establishing a commercial rehabilitation district for the site near Northwestern Highway. Doing so allows Bloomfield Hills-based Contour Companies to seek a four-year property tax exemption under the state’s Commercial Rehabilitation Act.

Luke Bonner of Bonner Advisory Group, which is involved in the project, told the council it needs that designation to “freeze” the property tax as Contour pursues the first phase of their plans before it becomes profitable. That phase includes constructing 14, five-story apartment buildings with 1,339 units as well as transforming the former J.L. Hudson's into a food-and-specialty home furnishings marketplace.

“During that time there will be a significant amount of capital deployed,” Bonner said of Contour’s efforts, adding: “Around year five, the taxes would go into full effect.”

Phase two will incorporate more mixed-use residential buildings with townhomes.

Rochelle Freeman, Southfield’s business and economic development director, said the city is not able to grant an exemption until the site has a new owner. Establishing the district advances that, Freeman said.

Before voting on the measure, councilmembers praised the project.

“I definitely think this is going to be a great development for the city and help to reinvigorate … that property,” said Councilman Michael "Ari" Mandelbaum.

Councilwoman Tawnya Morris added: “I support it and I look forward to seeing great things happening at Northland.” 

The council recently approved a purchase agreement for selling most of the site for more than $11 million to Contour. The sale is expected to be finalized in January, with construction slated to start in the spring.

Northland Mall redevelopment renderings

In a presentation during a teleconference meeting Monday night, Contour CEO David Dedvukaj noted the plans call for more than 250 loft-type residences, retail space in some of the apartment buildings as well as demolishing the JC Penney's.

His company plans to save and renovate the original five retail pads from the former mall, which opened in 1954 and once was the world’s largest, as well as the underground tunnels.

The second phase of the project focuses on more mixed-use residential buildings with townhomes sitting on a landscaped green space featuring a pond and  amenities. The power plant is slated to become a community clubhouse and the Northland water tower will remain.

The proposals reflect residents' input on how to use the former mall, which closed in 2015.

Southfield bought it that year from a court-ordered receiver for $2.4 million with plans to remediate, demolish and sell the property to a developer.

Demolition of the former Target and Firestone building has been completed.

The city also recently sold five acres to Ascension Health to expand the Providence Hospital campus. 

One resident who spoke about the site plans during the council meeting Monday said she welcomed development but seeks more details from Contour.

“I’m hoping that they will actually proceed with it and do their very best to develop this particular property,” Pamela Gerald said after the vote. “I’m hoping that they put the vision in place that the residents wanted to see.”