For a long time in Metro Detroit, Northland Mall represented the best of modern shopping, and was the most popular attraction in Southfield. Those days are gone, and now the center is at risk of becoming festering blight.

That’s why Southfield made an astute and strategic move in purchasing the property. The city paid $2.4 million for the closed mall and will spend $8 million to $10 million to demolish it and clean up the property. When it’s ready, the city plans to sell the land to a developer.

Mayor Donald F. Fracassi says the decision was made for the city to act as middleman to assure a quick turnaround of the property. The city wants it back on the tax rolls as soon as possible.

Fracassi says staffers are working with Oakland County and the state to obtain funds for the initial phases in preparing the site. This includes everything from obtaining federal grants to possibly making the area a brownfield development.

Utilizing the brownfield option is complicated, but it might just work, if needed. In a brownfield development, the developer pays for various expenses and costs for addressing environmental issues. The company gets reimbursed through future tax revenue from the property.

To finance the purchase and demolition, the city is using money from its Tax Base Initiative Fund and the Local Improvement Revolving Fund, both of which are earmarked for economic development.

“The funds have been put away and used when we need and see fit to use them, Fracassi notes.

Because the mall at one time housed a police sub-station, the city is trying to alleviate the fears of residents by initially increasing the police presence in the area. Fracassi said officials eventually hope to establish a new police station for the neighborhood.

Oakland County Deputy Executive Matt Gibb, who is in charge of development for the county, praised the city and expressed confidence the project will succeed.

“The county is pleased Southfield is taking such an aggressive role in redeveloping the site,” Gibb said. “It takes an effort beyond the norm and the city is certainly stepping up to the task.”

Planning and bold, calculated action should help Southfield renovate the mall site. It’s a process other communities with similar problems could emulate.

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