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Armory redevelopment brings hope to Eight Mile


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Developer Schostak Brothers & Co., vows to raze the armory by March and build offices and provide light industrial space on the 94-acre site. It is among five big projects on Eight Mile that was a haven for prostitutes and drug dealers in the 1980s.


Sam Bacall, manager at Happy Foods across the street from the armory, is upbeat about the overhaul of the property.


Detroiter Bobbie Sullen hopes new development will eventually push out strip clubs, such as Platinum and Hot Tamales, on Eight Mile.

Armory redevelopment brings hope to Eight Mile

Oak Park leaders are optimistic about project; Detroit residents, merchants eager for change.

By Amy Lee / The Detroit News

OAK PARK -- It's huge, empty and crumbling from the inside out.

But the decrepit Detroit Artillery Armory has emerged as an unlikely beacon of optimism along Eight Mile, the long-stigmatized boulevard separating Detroit from its suburbs.

Developer Schostak Brothers & Co. promises to demolish the eyesore by March and build offices for technical firms and space for light industrial companies on the 94-acre site.

Schostak began dismantling the storied boarded-up armory this month. It's among five major projects along the infamous boulevard that in the 1980s was a haven for prostitutes and drug dealers.

The eight-lane road cuts through three counties and touches 13 communities.

The optimism is not shared by all. Miyun Kim owns Royal Beauty Supply, across the street from the armory, in Detroit. She worries the new developments won't convince suburbanites that it is safe to shop on Eight Mile.

"It's this side of the road they avoid. Some people tell me they will shop on the other over there, but won't cross for Detroit businesses," she said.

But Oak Park leaders can already smell the cash.

"A negative becomes a positive almost immediately," said Jim Ghedotte, Oak Park's finance director. "The armory gave us zero tax dollars. In a few years, it'll generate more than half a million."

Oak Park leaders, as well as those in other aging Metro Detroit suburbs, are hungry for money to run city operations.

Administrators in Oak Park and other established cities in Metro Detroit argue they're hamstrung by the one-two punch of the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A -- state laws that limit the amount of taxes local governments can collect. Many older cities have crumbling roads and aging infrastructure.

"Unless we get some legislative relief, older municipalities will eventually have to share services with other communities or stop providing services altogether," said Oak Park City manager Jim Hock.

"It would come down to providing public safety and that's it."

Oak Park since 2001 has cut 20 employees, dissolved its community services department and slashed its fireworks budget and summer concerts to make up for budget shortfalls.

Without undeveloped land to build gleaming strip malls and subdivisions, some suburbs are largely forced to rely on redevelopment to generate new revenue. In June 2002, leaders from 14 Metro Detroit suburbs, including Oak Park, formed the Michigan Suburb Alliance to push for tax reform.

"The system almost guarantees an inability for older, fully developed communities to thrive," said Taylor Mayor Greg Pitoniak, chairman of the alliance.

Oak Park this year peacefully ended a land grab with its neighbor Royal Oak Township and brokered the long-awaited armory redevelopment.Combined, the projects will eventually pump an additional $1 million into Oak Park's annual $18 million budget.

Ten years of work and a few tax tricks have fueled development of the 73-acre parcel, where the military once made submachine guns and National Guardsmen gathered for the 1967 riot. Schostak also bought 21 acres northwest of the armory.

The armory lot includes eight vandalized, vacant buildings and an overgrown airstrip.

"It wasn't a major tourist attraction or anything, but people did tour it and just looked at the tanks and vehicles and whatnot," said Ray White, 70, who has lived in Oak Park since 1950.

Schostak bought the property from the state in April for $3.7 million and plans to invest at least $50 million, said spokeswoman Linda Busse. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. estimates the project could spur 1,000 new jobs.

The state in 2003 sweetened the deal by spending about $200,000 to clean up the site, which was contaminated largely by fuel from vehicles and aircraft. The state further agreed to a $2.4 million tax deal that will let Schostak reinvest tax dollars that would have gone to the state back into the site.

This year, Oak Park also completed the land-share deal with Royal Oak Township. It involved three apartment complexes on the city's northwestern edge and about 75 businesses.

The two deals combined have already allowed Oak Park to hire two more police officers.

Besides the overhaul of the armory property, the 8 Mile Boulevard group is assisting with several multimillion-dollar developments. Construction crews are already working on Gateway Commons, a $70 million retail redevelopment on 34 acres at Eight Mile and Woodward.

To the east of the armory, Crosswinds Development plans to build a $15 million, 80-unit condo development near the intersection of Eight Mile and the Northwest Service Drive.

Another $30 million, 200-unit condo development, the Villas at Cornerstone, is set to rise on Eight Mile at Southfield Road in Southfield.

Detroiter Bobbie Sullen, 70, who has lived on Tracy near Eight Mile for 38 years, hopes new development will eventually push out strip clubs.

"We picketed for years to close (Platinum) down, but nothing even happened," she said. "But I try to do the community thing and I shop up and down Eight Mile. We've waited for change for a long time."

"A negative becomes a positive almost immediately."


You can reach Amy Lee at (248) 647-8605 or [email protected].

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Administrators in Oak Park and other established cities in Metro Detroit argue they're hamstrung by the one-two punch of the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A -- state laws that limit the amount of taxes local governments can collect. Many older cities have crumbling roads and aging infrastructure.

I just read about this in the Livonia city newletter. It was very insteresting and something I didn't know about before. All these cities which are fully developed are struggling financially because of this and the down turn in the economy (Livonia says it has $1 million per year less because of its investments). They are proposing a vote to increase taxes on the people to keep some of the basic services at the level we have come to expect. I'm all for it, and in the scheme of things, it will only cost a household a couple of bucks per week. I seam to remember Ferndale doing something like this.

What I really didn't understand was that Headlee amendment and Proposal A combined have the unintended effect of increasing sprawl due to the decrease in quality that incures. They really need to do enact something to benefit the existing fully developed cities, otherwise there will be no end to the sprawl and decay.

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Proposal A is bad for cities like Detroit. Because of it, the city cannot raise the taxes on all those abandoned buildings downtown more than the rate of inflation. It is thus impossible to tax the heck out of the buildings until the owners do something with them. It also means that the city has a really hard time making ends meet. It already has the challenge of having the remaining 900,000 people pay for a crumbling infrastructure that was built for 2.1 million.

I did not know about the Headlee amendment until last night. I will need to do more research on this. I doubt I will have time until Wednesday or Thursday though, since I have a paper and a project that are both due on Wednesday.

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Allan, I'll save you the trouble!

from www.michiganbrief.org

Headlee Amendment


[APRIL 1, 1998] In November 1978 Michigan voters approved the so-called Headlee Amendment, which added several provisions-sections 25 through 33-to Article IX of the state constitution. The key provisions are presented below.

Section 26

Section 26 limits the revenue collected by the state (except federal aid) to no more than the share it was of total personal income in FY 1978

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