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Oakland County to purchase land for downtown Pontiac campus

Posted By: The Detroit News on May 29, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

Oakland County has proposed a downtown redevelopment partnership with the city of Pontiac that would move several county operations and as many as 600 employees from the current Oakland County campus of 45 buildings in northwest Pontiac and eastern Waterford Township to downtown Pontiac, the traditional seat of county government.

Pontiac’s Phoenix Center amphitheater, which sits atop a three-story parking garage and hasn’t hosted a show since Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean’s performance in August 2011, would be torn down as part of the project.

The county Board of Commissioners has authorized the county government to enter an agreement to purchase 10-12 acres in downtown Pontiac for $19.2 million. The properties include Ottawa Tower at 5111 Woodward Avenue, a former General Motors building at 31 E. Judson, the lease for the Phoenix Center parking garage and four adjacent parcels of land.

Pontiac Mayor Tim Greimel said he is thrilled that the county is interested in investing in downtown and called it a “transformative” project.

“By bringing hundreds of employees from the existing county campus into the heart of our downtown, it will increase foot traffic, provide additional customers and patrons for downtown establishments and really be a catalyst to rejuvenate our downtown,” Greimel said.

The project will focus on the southern portion of the Woodward loop in downtown Pontiac between Orchard Lake Road and Judson Street. It would incorporate the Michigan Department of Transportation’s planned reconfiguration of the Woodward Loop in 2025 and connect Saginaw Street with the rest of downtown Pontiac.

“If you’re in restaurants and your stores are going to be successful, they need foot traffic,” County Executive David Coulter said. “Pontiac is our county seat and has, I think, a tremendous amount of not just potential … , but I think this could be a catalyst for even spurring more private development, other public development and the like.”

Pontiac has experienced disinvestment for decades by Oakland County and companies like General Motors Co., Coulter said. Auto industry job losses following the Great Recession hit Pontiac hard and left the city in millions of dollars of debt and led to the state’s appointment of an emergency manager because of a financial emergency, although it has since begun to attract new development.

The county government’s last significant presence in downtown Pontiac was the courthouse, which moved to the western limits of the city in the 1960s.

Dan McGowan, managing partner at Oak House Deli on Saginaw Street in downtown Pontiac, said he wants more foot traffic, and reimagining the Phoenix Center can only be good for downtown.

“We’re very excited is that there’s an emphasis on bringing the county back,” McGowan said. “We want more foot traffic, we want to sell more sandwiches during the day.”

McGowan also runs the Crofoot Ballroom, an event venue and music-promoting business. He promoted Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean’s final performance at the Phoenix Center and said he has mixed feelings about tearing it down.

“I hope that part of the plan is reimagining a public space within their plans,” McGowan said. “Tear the structure down, sounds great, but Pontiac for many, many years has been an event destination. … This is a unique city that has a concentration of music venues and both active and dormant, that deserve to be reinvigorated.”

The Phoenix Center parking garage and amphitheater divide Saginaw Street into two noncontinuous sections, creating a “black hole” in the city center, he said. Dustin McClellan, founder and CEO of the Pontiac Community Foundation, hopes the county will reconnect them if the project goes through.

“Tearing down the Phoenix Center parking garage and amphitheater will allow the opportunity for Saginaw to be reconnected and reopened which could be really great,” McClellan said. “As long as the county, as they’re making this movement, puts the focus on opportunity for Pontiac businesses and Pontiac residents, I think it can be a catalytic investment for downtown.”

Under the purchase agreement, the county has a 60-day due diligence period to evaluate the property during which the government can withdraw at any time.

Oakland County will need assistance to fund the project, Coulter said. As state legislators finalize the budget for the next fiscal year, county officials are working with them and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration to get money to help with property acquisition, renovation and relocation costs as well as blight removal, streetscaping, greenspace and parking development, he said.

“Literally up in Lansing right now they’re talking to budget priorities up there and we’re hoping to get funds from Lansing,” Coulter said. “It’s not a done deal, we’re still working on it. I don’t know what the odds are at this point. But we are optimistic that Lansing will be supportive.”

The county is also prepared to invest funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and capital improvement funds into the project.


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