Pontiac prepares to spend $13.9M to revitalize downtown, neighborhoods

Posted on June 16, 2011

Blue Note Cafe is one of the staple businesses of downtown Pontiac, popular with crowds of all ages going to concerts at the Crofoot Ballroom or as an intimate place to grab a hot cup of joe and a burger.

“There are good days and bad days, but it all evens out at the end of the month,” owner Tim McMahon joked.

“Anything that could bring more development to the downtown would be great,” he said, citing strong foot traffic as a key success factor for the businesses in downtown.

The city could soon see that resurgence as state, county and city officials prepare to spend $13.9 million awarded to Pontiac by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program to revitalize the downtown and selected neighborhoods.

Officials say an announcement will be made in the next two weeks about community engagement meetings in the first stages of a campaign to revitalize the county seat.

Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner is part of a steering committee put together to organize the meetings and form partnerships. Other members of the committee include Genisys Credit Union Public Relations and Community Involvement Vice President Lon Bone, the Rev. Douglas Jones of Welcome Missionary Baptist Church, Pontiac Federal Programs Director Ty Hinton, Richard Marsh of the Detroit-based engineering firm Wade Trim Associates, Inc. and POH Riley Foundation Executive Director Teresa Rodges.

The four areas of Pontiac selected to benefit from the grant money are:

  • The Fairgrove neighborhood bordered by Saginaw Street to the west; Lewis, Beach and Perry streets to the north; Paddock Street to the east; and University Drive and Woodward Avenue to the south.
  • The Woodward Loop with Orchard Lake Road serving as the southern border.
  • The neighborhood on Mechanic Street, between M-59 and Paddock Street.
  • The west and east parts of the Unity Park neighborhood, with Auburn Avenue to the north; Sanford Street to the east; Osmun Street to the south; and Woodward Avenue to the west.

The federal government chose the target areas, citing a potential to backslide further, Meisner said.

The grant has been broken down, with $4 million spent on rehabilitating 11 homes and building 20 new homes in the target areas.

Fifty percent of the homes built or rehabbed are required to be rented to households at or below 50 percent of the area median income.

An estimated $9 million will be spent on mid- to large-scale mixed-use developments in the downtown.

The mixed-use development will include a residential component, requiring 25 percent of the units for households at or below 50 percent of the area median income.

About $390,000 will be spent on demolishing 25 blighted and vacant structures in Fairgrove and Unity Park neighborhoods.

An estimated $120,000 will be spent on tearing down structures on Mechanic Street, between M-59 and Paddock Street.

The Michigan Land Bank will use $385,711 to buy up property along Mechanic Street and in the Fairgrove neighborhood for possible future development.

The state’s land bank will act as the temporary manager of the property until it is sold for development.

Pontiac almost lost the $13.9 million grant as Emergency Manager Michael Stampfler sought to send it back, citing the inability for the city to properly implement the millions.

Audit reports have indicated Pontiac isn’t in compliance or has adequate internal controls to manage funds for “virtually every state and federal program in which the city has participated in.”

He also has stated the city is flush with housing for low-income households.

However, Stampfler’s attempts met with outcries from a number of elected officials, who were able to keep it from going back.

The Michigan Land Bank also has stepped up to administer the money on behalf of the city with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority acting in an advisory role.

“On the ground, it is very much a partnership,” Meisner said. “MSHDA has the expertise on procurement and knows the contractors.”

Pontiac elected officials also have been made consultants for the project, he said.

Mayor Leon Jukowski said he hasn’t been made aware of anything related to how the grant money will be used, adding the city’s elected leaders were pushed out of being involved after Stampfler tried to have the money sent back.

He also was critical of building additional low-income housing in the city, stating demolition should be the primary focus and housing opportunities should be built within and close to the downtown.

“What we needed to do is talk with (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to loosen the regulations,” he said. “If they are going to build housing, it should be as much market rate as possible.”

The requirements in hiring Pontiac contractors and workers for the demolition and construction are paramount to helping the city’s economy, Councilman Kermit Williams said.

Williams admitted he wasn’t too happy with the lion’s share of the money spent in the downtown, adding he’d like to see 100 homes demolished.

Pontiac, he said, doesn’t need another Strand Theater, referring to the failed attempt at redeveloping the historic theater on Saginaw Street.

“I think this is big,” he said. “Not just for Pontiac 2011, but Pontiac 2025,” Williams said.

By Shaun Byron, The Oakland Press