Warren Evans eyes connected parks, infrastructure improvements in second term

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans speaks about his first term in office on Wednesday as he plans for the next four years as executive.

Detroit — Wayne County Executive Warren Evans says the focus of his second term will be infrastructure improvements and creating connectivity among the county’s parks. He says he'll also continue a controversial push for regional transit.

Evans, re-elected to the county’s top post in November, reflected on his first term with The Detroit News on Wednesday and spoke about his goals as he prepared for his swearing-in celebration set for Sunday.

“Improve the parks, improve the quality of life, improve the infrastructure and you start to improve the business climate, you start to improve the residential climate and people are starting to move back,” Evans said.

“If my theory is correct, we should have a good next four years. There’s always going to be ups and down in the economy. I can’t control that, but as a general trend, I think there’s enough investment that has come into Detroit and Wayne County in the last four years, people aren’t just going to take their investments and run."

Among his administration's accomplishments are improving the county’s credit rating from junk bond to investment grade, he said. The county's retirement fund is funded at about 56 percent, up from 45 percent when Evans first took office. Ideally, that figure would be 80 percent, he said. The county is also operating at a surplus, he said.

But Evans struggled last year to sell regional leaders on a 20-year, $5.4 billion millage proposal to build up public transit in Metro Detroit. Local leaders in northern Macomb and Oakland communities opposed Evans' plan because it did not include new buses in those areas and would not allow them to opt out.

Evans said he still plans to continue to lobby for regional transit, an issue he believes voters would eventually support, particularly millennials. 

"I advocated as much as I could last year for transit," he said. "We weren't successful yet getting it done then, but I think we were absolutely successful in elevating the discussion." 

Other plans also have not been met with open arms.

Some county residents this month spoke out against a proposed project that includes selling three historic mills at Hines Park. Officials have said the proposed project also aims to add 16-29 acres to the park's overall footprint, connect bicycle and pedestrian trails with the state's larger network of recreation routes as well as link to other regional locales

“There’s history to those mills,” Evans said. “If you go out to the park, now it’s junk. It’s fenced off. There’s contaminants in the ground there. People can call it park land, but it’s not park land for you to be able to walk around and explore and do anything.

"The project is to get folks to agree to retrofit the mill. Bring back the history of the mill. You can have a commercial coffee house or something else next to it. … It’s all designed for people to use the park more.”

There isn't any money in the county's budget to restore the mills, Evans said, but it could be done with private investment.

“Selling 10 acres in Hines Park for housing disconnects, fractures and diminishes our ability to manage the floodplain and develop recreational amenities," said Nancy Darga of Northville and a member of Save Hines Park. "We the people voted for a park millage to protect and enhance our parkland. Parks are for people, not politicians to peddle their assets for sale.” 

Evans pointed out numerous business developments taking place throughout the county beyond downtown Detroit. Among those are Amazon fulfillment centers in Livonia and Romulus and Ford Motor Co. expanding its plant in Flat Rock. There are also businesses interested in moving into the county, although Evans declined to reveal company names.

"It's not really a hard sell now that Detroit is bouncing back and there's the expectation that population will follow," Evans said. "Not all of those industries are going to want to be in the city of Detroit. Logistics industries want to be near transportation, so the airport is there. Those projects are growing."


Twitter: @CWilliams_DN