Civic Center: Move Ahead Or Let Die?

by CYNTHIA KMETT

What are the options for the future of Troy’s Civic Center? That was the topic at last Tuesday’s study session for Troy City Council. It appears there are three options: move ahead with some kind of development, perhaps altered in nature, or turn the 120-acre site into our version of Central Park, or do nothing.

Council doesn’t want residents to think they are planning to move ahead with building on the site, but they did want to know what kind of economy we were encountering at the present.

The council first heard from Matt Farrell of CORE Properties, which manages many office buildings in Troy and Southeast Michigan. He said the Michigan “economy is stable and strong,” and unemployment at 3+ percent is considered full employment. It’s the most financial support coming into the state since the mid 1970s and he’s never seen so much building.

Troy, like the rest of Michigan, is closely tied to the fortunes of the auto industry, Farrell observed. Those companies didn’t have a great year, primarily because of the hurricanes, but they were recovering in the last quarter.

“The financial market is capable of sustaining this project,” he said of building on the civic center. When asked if such projects have failed, Farrell said there have been a couple that failed, but that was because the 2008 recession brought them to a halt. A project like the one proposed on the Civic Center would mean a developer was willing to invest about $100 million cash in the plan, on land they would not actually own, as the city intends to keep ownership of the site. The rest of building costs would be from investors.

Councilwoman Ellen Hodorek wanted Farrell to explain what an RFQ is, as residents heard it during the election campaign that the city was taking bids from developers to start the project.

A RFQ, Farrell noted, is a request for qualifications from developers in the investment community. You learn what they like and don’t like about a project. If qualified investors are interested, you can contact them. If investors don’t want to put their capital in Southeast Michigan, such a project might not be economically attainable, he stated.

New Michigan investors, Farrell added, are looking for a place for their workers to live, work and play. Troy is strong on schools and safety, but walkability is still a problem and you’ll never have Detroit’s waterfront or sports team as an attraction.

Council wants to invite the public to be more engaged in discussing the Civic Center and its future. Hence, they will use every effort to get the public to attend an open forum at the Troy Community Center, one in the daytime and one in the evening, after the first of the year. Expect to see the invitation on the website, in newspapers, on cable TV and probably your water bill.

Also on the agenda last week was “green spaces.” It seems many residents believed the city was just letting builders cut down trees and build new houses.

That’s not how government works. First of all, the city didn’t own any of the land which now has new homes on it. Actually, it turns out that many of the parcels had been held by long-time residents or inherited by their children. Now that property is selling at $200,000 to $250,000 an acre, explained Councilman Dave Henderson, a Realtor by profession, and it seemed like a great time to sell, especially parcels that already had residential zoning.

The city cannot tell a developer not to build on their land and not to cut down trees, although we can make you plant new ones to replace the ones you cut down.

Plus, be aware that it was the Troy School District, not the city, which recently sold large tracts of land to developers. Would residents have wanted to help pay the almost $9 million the school district got for the land?

Troy has bought a number of parcels of land to keep them green over the years through a bond issue approved by residents. The recession has kept some from being developed. One you can see that is under development is the land where we now have Daisy Knight Dog Park and the beginnings of the Pathways and Trails project.

Council would also like to see the Troy Historic Village, Stage Nature Center and the city’s 100-acre farm brought into the park system for their own protection.