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After years of delays, Five & Main project moving forward in Commerce Township

A Commerce Township development long in the works is moving forward as a developer has purchased more than 30 acres of land for a new lifestyle center.

Birmingham-based Robert B. Aikens & Associates LLC has closed on the $4.25 million purchase of about 34 acres for the first phase of what is being referred to as the Five & Main development at M-5 and Pontiac Trail.

There, the developer plans the first of two phases of retail development that in the end is anticipated to total about 500,000 square feet of lifestyle center space akin to the Village of Rochester Hills project that Aikens completed in 2002 with 375,000 square feet at the northeast corner of Adams Road and Walton Boulevard.

Uses ranging from restaurants to retail and entertainment to hotel space are planned, providing an expansive commercial anchor to the hundreds of acres of land that has been assembled by the Downtown Development Authority beginning in the early 2000s for the effort.

The project has been delayed several times, but those involved say construction should now begin next year on the first phase with some of the outlot development. In 2014, Aikens anticipated both phases opening by the end of 2017.

“The Village of Rochester Hills, we started working it in late 1980s and opened in 2002. These are very complex transactions, and tenants are very powerful in their own minds,” Bruce Aikens, vice chairman of Robert B. Aikens & Associates, said with a chuckle.

Randy Thomas, the president and CEO of Commerce Township-based Insite Commercial which worked on the deal, said the sale closed at the end of October.

“He’s been working on it for almost five years and these types of developments aren’t easy,” Thomas said. “Retail is tough now, so it’s tough to aggregate the necessary tenants and get this thing financed, but it’s definitely moving in the right direction. He has a couple anchors, a high-end market and a theater in there.”

Aikens declined to reveal tenants during an interview, but said that in the age of Amazon and with the rise of e-commerce, tenant makeup has gone from 60 to 70 percent apparel and other retail in a typical shopping center a few decades ago has shifted to 45 to 50 percent entertainment, such as theaters and restaurants.

“The apparel/fashion component is down to 25-30 percent,” Aikens said.

Ken Nisch, a retail expert who is chairman of Southfield-based JGA, a brand strategy and retail design firm, said physical retail isn’t dying. Instead, it’s adapting, although perhaps slowly.

“It’s not that Amazon is killing brick-and-mortar retail, but it’s changing the dynamic into not a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality, but more, ‘How do we serve the market in different ways?’ Amazon has impacted the future more than the past, it has taken the need for that additional stores out of the market.”

Walkable town center

The lifestyle center is one of several components of Commerce’s effort to develop the land surrounding the M-5/Pontiac Trail intersection, which had long been a thorn in the side of township officials until Martin Parkway, a north-south extension of the federal M-5 highway, was built in 2010 as a way to alleviate some of the heavy traffic congestion in the area.

Farmington Hills-based Hunter Pasteur Homes completed the Wyncliff development with 37 houses with an average sale price of $500,000 to $550,000. They are between 2,800 and 3,500 square feet.

More than 300 townhomes are in the works by Farmington Hills-based M. Shapiro Real Estate Group southwest of the Hunter Pasteur site, according to Mark Stacey, director of the Commerce Township DDA. The rents are expected to be between $1,350 and $1,700 per month for two- and three-bedroom units with two bathrooms.

“All underground is in, paving, cement work is done, nine basements are in and you should see those going up by spring,” Stacey said of the site immediately west of the Aikens site on the other side of Martin Parkway.

Atlanta-based PulteGroup, which for decades made its headquarters in Oakland County, has also built 69 single-family homes starting at $600,000 at the northern edge of the development site.

In addition, the northwest corner of Pontiac Trail and Haggerty Road is open for development in what Stacey envisions as a milestone project for the area at a key intersection.

“It should be a capstone piece coming into downtown that should be exceptional,” Stacey said. “We have had lots of offers but nothing we have found acceptable.”

Robert Gibbs, president of Birmingham-based planning firm Gibbs Planning Group Inc., said the lifestyle center project should flourish given that “many of the most popular retailers are seeking walkable town centers as Aikens is proposing.”

“The Commerce site is an excellent location for an upscale lifestyle or walkable town center,” Gibbs said in an email. “It will provide needed goods and services for much of northwest Oakland County and will complement Twelve Oaks Mall (in Novi). Many of the mall’s visitors will combine their mall shopping with the walkable town center experience for dining and specialty shopping, much like the Birmingham and Somerset Collection relationship.”

Gibbs’ company consulted Aikens on the Village of Rochester Hills development.

Novi project delays

Elsewhere in west Oakland County, Aikens is working on a mixed-use development geared toward the Asian population in Novi and other nearby communities on property just shy of 10 acres bounded by Grand River Avenue to the south, Town Center Drive to the west and 11 Mile Road to the north.

Crain’s reported last year that a new market/food hall concept by One World Market would anchor the development, and across 75,000 square feet, there would be things like fitness, style, food and entertainment space. Residential and possibly office space are also part of the effort.

However, that project $50 million to $60 million project has been delayed at least three times, and the Novi City Council is continuing to mull whether to give Sakura Novi LLC, an affiliate of Robert B. Aikens & Associates, a six-month extension until June 21, 2020 to close on the purchase of the property. The current deadline is Dec. 21. As of Dec. 5, the item was not on the council agenda for Dec. 9.

Kevin Adell, the broadcast entrepreneur who is developing another 22-acre Novi site, has sent attorneys to city council meetings to impart his desire to develop the site that Aikens is working on.

Building a downtown

For years, Commerce Township wanted two things — badly: a bustling downtown-like area, and to relieve growing traffic congestion that has plagued the area.

It effectively thought it could pull both off at once with a major roadway extension.

First, the DDA bought 50 acres of Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority parkland and the El Dorado Country Club in 2003. Then it bought 70 acres of Dodge Park No. 5 from the Michigan Department of Transportation and several other parcels.

The various land purchases, totaling 330 acres and $41.2 million, gave the township enough space to build a new library in 2005 and redevelop the former Links of Pinewood clubhouse into a new township hall in 2009.

But still, it had a heavily traveled freeway in M-5 that dead-ended at its northern terminus at Pontiac Trail, dumping traffic eastward and westward, and then on to smaller north-south arteries so travelers could continue their northbound journey farther into Commerce, West Bloomfield, Milford, White Lake and other communities in the area.

The DDA issued a series of bonds totaling $80 million to pay for the land, Commerce Township’s $12.5 million portion for the southward extension of Martin Parkway and its contribution to the construction of a roundabout at M-5 and Pontiac Trail. The rest of the bond proceeds were used for things such as engineering, environmental surveys and purchasing other properties outside the project area.

The road extension and roundabout created land that would be valuable for developers to build things like shops, residences, hotels and other uses. Now all of the work over the last 15-plus years has been materializing the last few, with an end product coming more into focus.

“We are getting closer to fulfilling the DDA’s dream of having a downtown for Commerce,” Stacey said. “We are excited and things are moving forward.”

 

Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on December 8, 2019.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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