The wait – for Warren’s Downtown Development Authority, Gibbs Planning Group, and others involved in the city’s downtown plan project – is the hardest part.
Since a Warren City Council plenary meeting on July 15 where the downtown proposal was presented by Community Economic Development and Downtown Director Tom Bommarito, he had expected the point to be discussed at a second plenary committee, a city hall meeting or a regular city council meeting. Mayor James Fouts, developer David Flaherty, CEO of Flaherty & Collins Properties, planner Robert Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group, as well as representatives from Plante Moran, Acquest Realty Advisors, Municipal Financial Consultants Incorporated also spoke at the July meeting.
Several council members including President Patrick Green, Secretary Mindy Moore and District 4 City Councilor Garry Watts said there were too many unanswered questions to put this item on the agenda at all. moment in the near future. Watts said those questions were not asked in the July committee of the entire meeting because, at that point, board members were not familiar enough with the project to know what to ask.
Bommarito says he contacted each board member and met with some of them individually. They didn’t ask him a lot of questions and the ones they did, he answered, he said.
A downtown development near City Hall is part of Warren’s current master plan, which was approved by city council in January 2021. It was also included in the city’s original master plan in 1961.
In response to a Macomb Daily investigation, Moore said in an email that the Council’s main concerns revolved around the estimated value of the property scheduled for development; if the land is given to developers; and whether the developers are buying the property or renting it out. Council also wonders if the current zoning of the property is in accordance with the proposed plan and has not received a detailed site plan from an engineer or architect.
“We’ve had what I call ‘sales pitches’ so far,” Moore said. “To make this type of investment with collected funds, we need information and concrete answers.
The project is to be funded by $ 140 million from developers and $ 30 million in bonds. The $ 30 million in bonds are to be matched with funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as part of its Brownfield Transformational Brown Plan. Experts at Transformational Brownfield put it at a low of $ 12 million, but it could reach $ 15 million. This would reduce the city’s bond commitment to between $ 15 million and $ 18 million.
“We received no legal feedback and no analysis,” Moore said. “We had a lawyer from the DDA who was an expert in these laws, but we don’t have him now. Before we vote “yes” or “no”, we need to have answers to these financial questions. “
Several residents spoke about the downtown development project at the September 14 council meeting and many asked when the item would be on the meeting’s agenda. Green said council members had submitted several questions about the project to the administration and were waiting for a response before taking any action.
“I can tell you that’s just not true,” Bommarito said. “I want to answer their questions. I even suggested that if the board wants to get the developers into some sort of a closed-door session and hammer them down and try to come up with a better deal, they’re open to that as well. Everyone involved in the process wants this transparency. We would love to have a meeting with them so that they can ask their questions and get the legal answers they are looking for.
Bommarito said the town of Warren is “leaking” about $ 7 million a year that residents spend in other cities on things the city does not currently have but which are part of the proposed downtown project.
Watts put the blame squarely on Mayor Jim Fouts.
“The ball is in the mayor’s court,” Watts said. “He gave us a book with some numbers and a picture that looks like it came out of a coloring book of what he’s supposed to look like. There is a lot to discuss when going to spend taxpayer dollars. “
Moore said she met Fouts and City Comptroller Richard Fox last month and expressed Council’s concern about the project.
“One of the things that concerns me is that the city can’t give away property and that’s give away property,” Moore said.
Bommarito said Public Law 197 gives a downtown development authority the ability to “acquire and dispose of real and personal property at will.”
Fouts admitted to meeting Moore and feeling like downtown won’t appear on the council’s agenda until 2022.
“This project will secure close to $ 2.5 million in new taxes and we’re going to have a destination for the residents of Warren,” Fouts said. “It will provide a rebirth for Warren. It will be an injection of new money into the city and new jobs. “
The development will include a boutique hotel, bars and restaurants, retail stores, a small theater and upscale lofts.
Fouts sent a letter to city council on September 22 urging its members to move forward with the review of the project and ultimately a final vote on the current proposal.
“Creating a pedestrianized city center has been the dream of our city leaders for over half a century,” Fouts said in the letter. “Such a development would serve as a hub for investment, job creation and quality of life for Warren businesses and our residents. This dream has always remained a dream until today when we are on the verge of making it a reality. Everyone involved in this project is supportive and ready to go. Warren City Council is the only thing standing in the way of dirt being returned, jobs created, tax revenue created and a half-century-old dream realized.
District 1 Councilor Ronald Papandrea made a motion during the “announcements” portion of the September 14 council meeting to put the proposed downtown plan on the September 28 agenda, but Green told Papandrea the motion was out of order because it was presented during the wrong part of the meeting. City Councilor Angela Rogensues supported Papandrea’s motion, but no votes were taken.
“It is the responsibility of the Council and you cannot put this on the mayor,” Papandrea said. “This is the most important decision we have made since 1957, when we were incorporated as a city. Are we going to be a real city with a real downtown or are we going to be some sort of village? “
Papandrea suggested having at least one meeting with all parties present at the July committee of the entire meeting so that all Council questions can be answered in a public forum. Green has previously said he likes the idea of a downtown development, but is not sure the current proposed plan is suitable for the city. He wonders if the proposed development meets the criteria of “public utility” as defined by the Michigan Supreme Court. One example Green gave of “public utility” was designating part of the residential area of the development as low-cost public housing. Bommarito defines “public utility” as the elimination of the scourge, the revitalization of property, the creation of jobs, economic development and the end of stagnation.
At this time, no meeting has been scheduled regarding the proposed downtown project and Moore said she was not sure when that could happen.
“I can’t predict when we’ll get responses from the administration, so I’m not able to give an exact date for a Committee of the Whole,” Moore said. “I indicated to the mayor that the lack of a DDA lawyer as we have had in the past is a problem because the vast majority of our questions are legal questions that should be answered by someone with expertise in the field. of DDA practice. “