New life for abandoned sites

Jim Tedder

The Pontiac Silverdome once hosted a Super Bowl, the Rolling Stones and Pope John Paul II — a shining beacon for sports, entertainment and cultural history. Now it sits abandoned and ugly, with its roof gone and a floor carpeted by moss and trash.

Summit Place Mall opened in 1962 as Michigan’s first enclosed shopping mall, a thriving retail center featuring nearly 200 stores and services at its peak. Now it is dead and empty.

Will these two Oakland County sites, and dozens like them across Michigan, ever be redeveloped? Or will they sit as empty eyesores and monuments to blight for decades to come?

Hope for new life rests with a plan recently approved in the Legislature. Bills providing an incentive for developers to resurrect sites they otherwise would never touch are on their way to Gov. Rick Snyder for his consideration.

Leaders from Michigan communities large and small support the legislation, which would allow developers to keep some of the income tax and sales tax revenue generated through new projects. The goal is to cover the financial gap that now leaves sites like the Silverdome and Summit Place too costly to clean up and redevelop.

Taxpayer protections are built into this plan. This is a ground-up initiative with local governments taking the first steps to approve projects. An independent third party would verify an economic benefit to the state before a project could advance. No more than five transformational brownfield plans could be approved for any one year. Tax benefits for developers would be limited to 20 years, or until the benefits equal the total investment amount of the project. Through an amendment I sponsored, the entire program would be reviewed by the Legislature after five years.

This is not corporate welfare. There is no risk of financial liability to the state. The risk falls completely on developers with the heart and passion to improve their communities.

I am certainly an advocate of the free market. But the free market abandoned these two Oakland County sites, and many like them across the state, long ago.

Potential suitors have explored the Summit Place site time and time again, only to jilt it in the end because of high redevelopment costs. The proposed projects either move to a green field or die altogether, leaving a 74-acre eyesore in the heart of Waterford Township.

Similar stories exist in Michigan communities from the shore of one Great Lake to another.

Now we have a chance to boost property and housing values near these sites, bringing a positive financial benefit to communities beginning with the first shovel in the ground to completion of the redevelopment and beyond.

We can allow blight and stagnation to continue for the foreseeable future. Or we can breathe renewed life into communities across Michigan. It is time to embrace this commonsense, conservative solution to once again allow our communities to thrive.

Rep. Jim Tedder represents Michigan’s House district 43 and chairs the House Tax Policy Committee.