WARREN — A stalled effort to inject new economic life into Warren’s Civic Center appeared closer to becoming a reality at last as 2018 drew to a close.
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts announced the selection of Flaherty & Collins Properties as the “master developer” for a $170 million development project on land where the old Warren City Hall once stood, along Van Dyke Avenue, north of 12 Mile Road.
The city’s former offices were demolished in 2007, and the land directly across the street from the General Motors Technical Center, in the shadow of the city’s new municipal complex and adjacent to City Square Park, has been vacant ever since. Former Mayor Mark Steenbergh and his team had sought opportunities to create a mixed-use development including shops and living spaces at the site. He once billed the plan, part of a broader transformation in the city’s Downtown Development Authority district, as a “second chance” for downtown Warren.
On Dec. 26, Fouts called the “downtown concept” a “vision for city leaders since the 1960s.” Years ago, then-Councilman Fouts was one of the main critics of the Steenbergh administration’s development efforts through the DDA at a time when city facilities were being closed and services were being scuttled. Fouts was one of the leading voices demanding more information about the ambitious plans.
What’s being proposed now includes 500 “market rate” apartments, a “high-end boutique hotel” and a total of 50,000 square feet of commercial retail and dining spaces, including a full-service grocery store.
“This is an important first step in achieving the city’s goal of creating a downtown that will draw visitors and new high-end businesses to our city,” Fouts said in a statement Dec. 26.
He later added more details about the funding for the project, and the level of the city’s involvement.
“No city tax money will be used. However, they (the developers) will get some benefits from the land we will allow them to use for a long-term lease,” Fouts said. “We’ll also spend several million on building infrastructure, drains and sewers.”
Developers could also see economic incentives, such as tax abatements.
Fouts said any costs to the city would be paid through the DDA, which “captures” business tax dollars paid into the district and earmarks them for use to pay for improvements. An expanded DDA plan approved by the Warren City Council in 2002 led to the sale of $75 million in bonds used to construct the new City Hall and Civic Center Library, City Square Park and related infrastructure improvements, as well as the renovation and expansion of the Warren Community Center on Arden Avenue.
The development will reportedly be a public/private partnership. Fouts has proposed a pedestrian bridge over Van Dyke, connecting the development and the GM Tech Center campus.
According to the release, Acquest Realty Advisors will be the hotel development partner.
The city and its developers will reportedly work to negotiate a development agreement in the months to come. Pending the necessary approvals from the Warren City Council, a groundbreaking could take place before the end of 2019.
“Overall, I think it’s pretty exciting, and it changes Warren,” Fouts said Dec. 28. “It serves as a catalyst for further development and growth in the area.”
Reached for comment on the announcement, City Council member Scott Stevens offered a set of concerns similar to those originally expressed by Fouts when he served on the council prior to his election as mayor in 2007. As Fouts did then, Stevens stressed the need for council oversight and more input from the community.
“It’s like the master plan. You need to get input from the community on this. That’s never been done,” Stevens said. “The plan has to be approved by council. It’s been changed since the Steenbergh administration.”
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