MADISON HEIGHTS — During the State of the Cities address Feb. 23, Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell laid out the city’s vision for the year while reviewing the accomplishments of recent months.
The mayors of Madison Heights and Hazel Park gave their speeches this year at MRA Mobile Experiential in Madison Heights. The annual event is hosted by the Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce.
“Our goals are made possible by the city’s commitment to strong financial management by retaining our AA- bond rating, by approving a balanced budget that was again awarded the Distinguished Budget Award, and by achieving a clean financial audit,” Hartwell said.
He said the city’s financial position allowed Madison Heights to issue $15 million in bonds for the city’s general employees’ pension obligation, part of an effort to reduce the unfunded liability associated with personnel legacy costs.
Business is key to the city’s financial well-being, Hartwell said. He praised the city’s work on the monthly Entrepreneur Lounge, which focuses on raising the next wave of business owners. This was one of the reasons the University of Michigan Dearborn Center for Innovation recognized Madison Heights as a five-star community for business. Madison Heights has been a four- or five-star community since 2010, with three “best practice” awards.
The city has made efforts to attract new businesses by streamlining the licensing process to help businesses move in and open quickly.
Madison Heights also features the Michigan Advanced Manufacturing Collaboration within Madison District Public Schools, which has launched a state-of-the-art training facility that teaches students and adults the fundamentals of machining. Participating students earn industry certification, and 75 percent of them get jobs right out of the gate. The school is already planning to expand.
On this note, Hartwell invited the audience to recognize the Madison school district officials, and he announced that Madison High was ranked in the top 10 of all Oakland County high schools by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a think tank.
Also on the topic of businesses, Hartwell explained how 20 years ago, the city created the Southend Downtown Development Authority, and last August, the DDA hosted an interactive town hall meeting at Wilkinson Middle School to solicit public feedback that will help direct the next 20 years of the downtown’s development. He said the DDA board will soon use online survey results to develop a framework encouraging further business growth in the south end.
A regional presence
The city is an active voice at the county level, Hartwell said, as a member of Oakland County’s Tech248 initiative, whose goal is to bring technology jobs to the area. Through this partnership, the city hosted a tech event at Planet Rock that helped to promote local businesses.
Hartwell also announced another county partnership, with Madison Heights aiming to become a One Stop Ready Community in 2017.
“The idea is that development goes where development is wanted,” Hartwell said. “The city prides itself as a leader in efficient development procedures. Redeveloping key sites on 10 Mile, 11 Mile and John R, the former Kmart and Detroit Door facilities, will require assertive relationships and ambitious planning that the One Stop program will provide.”
At the state and federal levels, Navistar Defense, a major military contractor in Madison Heights, hosted Michigan’s announcement of the state’s strategy to grow the defense industry.
“I call on every advanced manufacturer in Madison Heights to contact the Michigan Defense Center to get the tools to compete for defense work,” Hartwell said. “I ask this Chamber of Commerce to host a manufacturing expo this year to showcase our defense-ready manufacturers and to employ the manufacturing students from Madison.”
Hartwell said that one area of uncertainty is medical marijuana. He said that new state law empowers cities to decide how, if and when to regulate medical marijuana.
“Right now, in the absence of regulation, medical marijuana business operations are sprouting up in unoccupied houses in many of our neighborhoods. If we stay silent, these drugs will continue to be grown near our families and schools,” Hartwell said. “It’s time to explore compassionate options to ensure a safer city in the face of this budding industry.”
Health and safety
Looking back on 2016, Hartwell highlighted how the city filled all vacancies in police and fire, including seven new firefighter/paramedics. One police officer was assigned to the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force to clean up neighborhood crime. A perimeter fence was erected around the Police Department to protect the officers’ vehicles. The city is also implementing Next Generation 911, which allows for more accurate location of 911 callers and will accept photos, videos and text messages from emergency scenes. The Fire Department has a new stretcher system too, reducing the risk of injury to firefighters and improving patient safety.
Hartwell said the city is considering upgrading its fire engines from basic to advanced life support, just like the city’s ALS rescues, and refurbishing the Police Department’s gun range, which he invited police from Royal Oak and Hazel Park to use. Hartwell also asked the Fire Department to host an open house at the southend fire station to show its commitment to ALS.
The city continues to provide health care through the Health and Wellness Center at City Hall, providing free health screenings and prescriptions to employees from Madison Heights, Ferndale and Royal Oak.
“In the first year of utilization, our employees are healthier, more productive and more proactive in caring for themselves,” Hartwell said. “The city also saved $30,000 by containing the volatility of traditional health care costs. Employees win, their families win, the city wins.”
The mayor encouraged Hazel Park, the public schools, and private employers to join the city’s Health and Wellness Center.
Hartwell also drew attention to a concern raised by local sheet metal workers: During a fire, HVAC systems act as a freeway circulating smoke and toxins throughout a building. Hartwell urged local businesses to bring in local certified inspectors to take necessary precautions with HVAC systems and install smoke dampers.
Shifting gears to the topic of infrastructure, Hartwell said the city was pleased by the governor signing Public Act 459, which saves the city more than $4 million for the planned expansion of Interstate 75. Those road funds will now go into the city’s local road network. Hartwell said it remains an important priority to save the I-75 pedestrian bridge south of 12 Mile Road, which is a link to neighboring Royal Oak.
In 2016, the city completed 22 public road projects, and voters approved 10-year renewals of the roads and vehicles millages. The city has also been awarded almost $500,000 in federal highway funds for repairs on 13 Mile Road, and more than $1.4 million in federal aid for Stephenson Highway.
In addition, the city completed the People Powered Transportation Plan, as well as its sidewalk repair program in the area between Lincoln and 11 Mile, including barrier-free ramps, and bike lanes and trails connecting the neighborhoods.
Hartwell recalled how in 2015, DTE Energy power outages were frequent in Madison Heights, with the number of customers who had experienced six or more power outages approaching 1,700.
“After meeting with city leaders, DTE admitted the problem,” Hartwell said. “DTE completed citywide tree trimming and circuit improvements. In 2016, the number of customers who experienced six or more power outages was zero. I thank DTE for responding to our community’s concerns.”
The Department of Public Services replaced more than 8,200 feet of new water mains in 2016. The DPS also led a replacement program to remove lead service lines at 28 single-family homes at no cost to owners. In addition, the city decided to help low-income water customers by adopting an ordinance to not disconnect water service, and opted into a program for generous payment plans.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality awarded the city a $2.4 million stormwater and wastewater grant to clean and televise all 500,000 linear feet of sanitary sewer in the city. Hartwell also said that all 376 mercury vapor streetlights were converted to LED with a payback period of only two years. The city also met its goal of reducing its building energy usage by 25 percent with help from the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office.
The mayor said that one top-rated goal from city staff, which he supports based on feedback from public workshops and forums, is to establish a tree replacement program in the right-of-way to slow the destruction of the neighborhood tree canopy by road and utility projects.
On the note of citizen input, Hartwell praised the Information Technology Advisory Committee for modernizing Madison Heights with projects such as the new internet phone system and the redesigned city website. He also cited the student mock council program as a way to get high school students involved in local government.
The mayor gave kudos to immigration attorney Chelsea Zuzindlak for the free legal consultations she held at the library, resulting in at least one family gaining asylum status under fear of murder back home in the Middle East. Hartwell asked City Council to continue the city’s tradition of diversity and inclusion by declaring Madison Heights a “Welcoming City.”
“Madison Heights has been immigrant-friendly since my non-English-speaking grandfather immigrated here in the 1950s,” Hartwell said. “Let’s serve as the example for how immigrants define the American experience, not threaten it.”
The mayor ended his speech on a positive note about Madison Heights property values rising nearly 11 percent in the last year, the sixth-highest percentage in Oakland County, and said he hopes to see the city emphasize its uniqueness with the development of neighborhood watch groups and summer block parties to better engage residents.
“It is the people who make a city great, and in Madison Heights there has been a renaissance of charitable acts,” Hartwell said, listing examples such as the Men’s Club’s revival of Gravel Park, students raking leaves for disabled seniors and shoveling snow at bus stops, the creation of the new Community Coalition, the tens of thousands of volunteer hours by the Women’s Club, and more.
“These sincere acts of service move us forward, progressing our welfare,” Hartwell said.
Following the speech, City Councilman Robert Corbett said in an email that he believes the Madison Heights community is “nothing short of outstanding.”
“We continue to enjoy significant growth in our residential and commercial sectors. That positive news is accompanied by continued improvement and acclaim for both of our award-winning school districts,” Corbett said. “Meanwhile, council has directed significant reinvestment in our roads, neighborhoods and park system to increase the city’s appeal throughout the region.
“What I think makes us unique among municipalities in the tri-county area is the council’s depth of experience — over 11 years on average for the members,” he added. “The ability to call upon institutional memory to chart the future course while avoiding past mistakes is crucial.”
Keeton highlights Hazel Park’s recent success stories
HAZEL PARK — Hazel Park’s new mayor, Jeffrey Keeton, opened up this year’s State of the Cities address, held Feb. 23 at MRA Mobile Experiential in Madison Heights.
“2016 was another very good year for Hazel Park,” Keeton said, citing new businesses, redevelopment projects, increased property values, a steep drop in criminal activity and more.
“We’ve always succeeded despite the odds, and we’re looking forward to facing the future with the same sense of community,” he told an audience that included a who’s who of influential people from both Hazel Park and Madison Heights. The address is arranged by the Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve overcome adversity and built a foundation for a strong future.”
Keeton commented on how Hazel Park was a runner-up for the Michigan Municipal League’s Community Excellence Award and won the “Place for Talent” division award. In addition, the Congress of New Urbanism conducted a three-day community engagement seminar in Hazel Park and produced a plan that was presented at CNU’s annual convention in Detroit last spring, recognizing Hazel Park’s potential and reporting that it was impressed by citizen engagement. Residents, officials, city staff and business leaders all provided feedback in the process, which aimed to improve Hazel Park, with particular focus on the John R corridor.
Hazel Park has been redeveloping its downtown area, attracting new businesses such as award-winning celebrity chef James Rigato’s high-end restaurant Mabel Gray, a James Beard Award finalist that Rigato personally oversees and that was recently named Restaurant of the Year by the Detroit Free Press. Famous food photographer Joe Vaughn is opening a new establishment, Joe Bar, a few doors down. Rigato is rehabilitating and reopening Doug’s Delight. Cellarmen’s is a hip new microbrewery that opened in town, and long-standing business Loui’s Pizza was recently recognized by food magazine Tasting Table for the quality of its pizza.
“Keep in mind this is a city of less than 2.8 square miles,” Keeton said. “Those of us who live in and love Hazel Park have always known how special our city is. But it’s exciting to see that others are now taking notice.”
The city held its fifth successful Hazel Park Art Fair last year, and its second Artober art tour, showcasing the city’s vibrant arts community.
Painting Vibe, a venue for painters, is scheduled to open soon in the city. It joins other arts-related businesses in town, such as Richard Gage Design Studios, the Phoenix Café, Studio 237 AM, CJ Forge and Sleeping Bear Trading Co. — another new clothing and art store.
Hazel Park has also been creating buzz with its Promise Zone and College Access Network, which ensures that all graduates of Hazel Park High receive college scholarships good for at least an associate degree through Oakland Community College or the equivalent at four-year colleges. The College Access Network assists students in applying for a post-secondary education and securing other funding sources. The Promise Zone has also been working to establish relationships with skilled trades programs for students who do not want to go to college.
“All of this is done to ensure that every Hazel Park student has an opportunity to succeed,” Keeton said.
Despite Hazel Park’s lack of space for new construction, investors have been interested in building there, the mayor said. The Tri-County Commerce Center, located at 10 Mile Road and Couzens Avenue, is currently in development — the largest redevelopment project in Oakland County — and will bring hundreds of permanent jobs to the city. Its developer, Ashley Capital, is on the cusp of launching a second project of similar size nearby, bringing even more jobs and revenue to the city of Hazel Park.
The redevelopment projects at Eight Mile and Dequindre roads continue to grow as well, with the new Save-A-Lot opening to much fanfare in January. There is also a new Tim Hortons and a new retail building that will house a Michigan Secretary of State office. The growth in values is not limited to commercial districts either; in 2015, home values increased by 12-15 percent. Currently, there are only around 30 homes available on the market. And recently, a property was sold and appraised on East Milton Avenue, four blocks north of Eight Mile Road, through the city’s nonprofit Land CURE, a public/private partnership, for $120,000 — the highest sale since the Great Recession.
Keeton praised the city’s administrative team, including JoAnn Hubbs, the treasurer, who was recently awarded the certified municipal treasurer designation; Jeffrey Campbell, the assistant city manager, who was recognized by Oakland County as one of its “40 Under 40,” and a graduate of the Detroit Leadership Program; and Ed Klobucher, the city manager, who completed his service as Hazel Park’s first-ever member of the Michigan Municipal League’s board of directors, and who was recognized as one of the region’s best problem-solvers by Metromode magazine.
“Clearly, the city of Hazel Park has one of the best administrative teams in the state of Michigan,” Keeton said. “We continue to strive to provide amazing city services to residents.”
On that note, he cited the city’s low crime statistics, many of which are the lowest they’ve been in decades, stretching back to the ’50s or ’60s. The city’s innovative collaboration with Eastpointe on the South Macomb Oakland Regional Services Authority, a fire-funding authority, has allowed the city to continue to provide quick response times. The Department of Public Works is continuing to work on its sidewalk replacement program. The Building Department continues to see more applications for permits. And thanks to a donation by the Truba family and others, Hazel Park is set to open an outdoor public fitness area at Green Acres Park.
In 2016, Hazel Park undertook a huge construction project at its civic center at Nine Mile and John R roads, expanding the 43rd District Court and improving City Hall’s facade. The mayor thanked Judge Chuck Goedert for managing the project and financing it in a way that cost taxpayers nothing. The mayor also thanked Hazel Park Public Schools for providing the elementary school as a temporary court facility during reconstruction. The judge has promised a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a public open house tour of the new courthouse in the near future.
The Hazel Park Historical Commission recently opened its first city museum, located at 45 E. Peal Ave. in one of the community’s former libraries. The museum opened on Hazel Park’s 75th anniversary in early February and contains numerous artifacts from the city’s past. It also received commemorations from the state and the county.
Keeton said that not all news has been good. He lamented the resignation of Jan Parisi as the mayor of Hazel Park, a choice she made due to health-related reasons. He praised Parisi as a dedicated and courageous fighter for Hazel Park and wished her the best in her retirement. He said that the city recently dedicated the art garden on John R Road in Parisi’s honor.
Keeton, previously the mayor pro tem, became mayor, and the vacancy on council that he created has been filled by Bethany Holland, who Keeton said has a wealth of experience with the city, serving on several boards and commissions and serving as a volunteer with Neighborhood Watch and Hazel Park Animal Control.
“She (Holland) will be a great asset to our community,” Keeton said.
The mayor concluded by saying that the city looks forward to the future with optimism, but that challenges will always remain.
“Every other community in southeast Michigan with a taxable value per capita similar to Hazel Park fell under state control in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Not Hazel Park,” Keeton said. “We remained masters of our own destiny, thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of our employees, administration and, most important of all, our residents. Our sense of community is strong in Hazel Park. No matter what, we will always find a way to overcome whatever challenges we may face.”
Holland, the new council member, said in an email following the speech that she agrees that Hazel Park is going in the right direction.
“Our current strengths are our people,” Holland said. “This includes the leadership team and city employees, longtime and new businesses, new residents excited to live in Hazel Park, and residents doing amazing things to make Hazel Park special. The Hazel Park Growers & Makers Market and Hazel Park Neighborhood Enrichment are just two examples.
“I’d like to see our housing values continue to rise,” she added, “and for Hazel Park to continue on the positive path we’re on!”
Klobucher, the city manager, said he couldn’t be more proud of the city’s progress.
“I’m pleased to be part of a community that’s doing great things,” Klobucher said. “We’ve had some great news last year, and this is the second year in a row with great news.”