Royal Oak Community Hears Plans for New City Hall, Park & Police Station
(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 19, 2016)
Royal Oak, MI – City Hall reached capacity and filled up over-flow space for a special meeting to learn about the proposed City Hall development that is currently being negotiated. The public-private partnership would help create an office building with parts of two floors set aside for the municipal offices. A new police station would be built adjacent to the courthouse, a parking deck would be built at Troy Street, and the current City Hall would be removed to make way for Central Park.
Central Park Development is a collaboration between developers Boji Group and Surnow Co, with the City retaining ownership of the land where City Hall currently is for the park, Central Park Development purchasing the parking lots, and the City being owners of the City Hall portion of the office building.
City Manager Don Johnson talked about the need, outlining many issues with the current City Hall building that cannot feasibly be changed. “This building was made in 1952. It’s 64 years old, just like me. And I think I’m in better shape than the building is,” Johnson said.
The issue of flooding has been in the news, with at least seven pipes having burst in the past few years. Johnson said that when the building was constructed the Commission at the time decided to save $3,000 and not have air conditioning installed. The AC was added later, but using galvanized steel couplings to connect copper pipes, leaving them prone to galvanic corrosion.
The building also needs a new roof, new walls, floor and ceiling, new heat and air conditioning units, basic temperature control and is prone to mold and mildew.
The heating and air conditioning system currently requires an outside company to come in at the changing of the seasons to switch from heat to air, so in the spring and fall when the temperatures fluctuate there is no way to properly adjust the heat. In the police station on temperate days there are rooms that top 85 degrees. In the summer it gets to be sweltering.
The air flow problem is compounded by issues with the windows. In City Hall the windows push outwards at the proper angle. But in the Police Station, windows angle inward so if there is any rain it slides right inside the building if the windows are open.
The police station in particular has problems. Royal Oak is one of the few places that continues to have jail cells with metal bars instead of safety glass. The cells are located on the third floor, with monitoring being done by video. The tiny space provides little room for paramedics if a prisoner needs attention.
The location itself also is challenging for police in terms of prisoner transport. A location next to the courthouse would provide more safety for the officers and prisoners.
The layout of City Hall is also problematic. It was likely designed to be a school building with its massive staircase and many classroom-sided rooms. The plans had been donated to the city by an architect who was known for designing schools, including the building that it now Royal Oak Middle School. “It’s a building that didn’t work very well and probably never did,” Johnson said. With an abundance of thick concrete structural walls, reconfiguration is impossible without great expense. “It’s the opposite of what an architect does for office space these days.”
Not only does the layout affect air flow, work flow is restricted as well.
Johnson talked about how each department is in their own space, with 7 counters for service. “People are always getting lost in this building. The departments are not unified. If someone comes in to put an addition on their house…we send them all over the building,” he said. He added that because of staffing constraints, department heads and managers often have to man their own counters, impeding the other work they do. Having one service counter is expected to save the city in the cost of staffing and to streamline the customer service experience.
“We’ve got a building that is somewhat of an embarrassment,” Johnson said. He admitted that he often schedules meetings elsewhere because of it.
Residents were eager to learn more about the cost of the project and the responsibilities of the city. Most seemed pleased to hear that the project would be paid for without raising taxes.
Of the $56 million the City would pay, money would come from the parking fund and from 30 year bonds, with an annual debt service of about $1-$1.6 million per year depending on how much the City takes from the General Fund at the start of the project.
City Center is also investing about $56 million. The details of the financing are still being worked out, and opportunities for savings will be looked at as the planning moves forward. Johnson said that the increased tax revenue from the office building would more than offset the cost of the City portion.
A chart included in Monday’s presentation broke down the expenses and where the money would likely come from. City Hall would be $5,490,945 and could come from the General Fund. The Police Department would cost $18,750,000 and could come from the Public Safety Fund and the General Fund. The Park would cost $6,450,00 and come from the General Fund, Park Improvement Fund and the General Fund. And the Parking Deck would cost $21,500,000 and come from the Parking Fund and possibly from the DDA. $4,200,000 for “other” items and contingencies could also come from the General Fund. Part of the “other” includes the cost of moving a large antenna from the property and erecting it elsewhere in the city.
Maintaining the character of Royal Oak was given consideration in the design of the new building, particularly the sleek entranceway and the yellow brick. In the public comment portion of the meeting, Joan Larson, a former city employee, thanked the Commission for keeping the same yellow brick style. “A lot of the feeling of citizens here are tied to this building,” she said. “I’ve had many people happy you’re leaving the yellow brick as part of the façade. Yellow brick is as rare as hen’s teeth… Royal Oak chose yellow brick because it was symbolic. It was so elite to have.”
The new 7-story office building would be called Royal Oak City Center. The 190,000 square foot building would have about 30,000 square feet allocated for the City Hall. The City would own that portion of the building as a condo.
The building would be LEED certified with a green-scaped roof and terrace overlooking the city.
Residents and those doing business would be greeted at a single counter, and staff would work in spaces designed for the jobs they are doing.
The new police station would be built in the Farmer’s Market parking lot next to the 44th District Court. The building would attach in a way that would allow enclosed prisoner transport.
Technology will be an important part of the police station design. The current station “was built at a time when the most complicated piece of equipment was the telephone,” said Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue. He described how the staff worked with the architects to create features that would be efficient for the work they do. New jail cells and a new dispatch center are part of the plans.
Central Park would be created in the space currently occupied by City Hall. In the 1930s the land had been used for a park that residents chipped in to build themselves with very little budget. “This is what we propose to put there again,” Johnson said.
Tentative park plans include a small amphitheater for outdoor movies and performances.
During public comment, the majority of resident suggestions were for additions to the park, including a dog run, a splash pad, public phones for safety, and a skateboard park.
Plans call for a six story parking deck that would add about 530 new spots. This is about 200 new spots gained during daytime business hours and about 450 new spots gained for weekend use.
Reaction to the project was mainly positive from the residents. Several people spoke about the need for union workers, and the City Manager assured the public that it would be. Kurt Strong was among the residents who were happy to see the plans. “I have two kids,” he said. “We wanted to stay here the rest of our lives, and now we probably will.”
Dave Ambransiac said he was “blown away by the fact it’s not going to cost us anything.”
One resident asked why the project would not be voted on by the public. Mayor Jim Ellison explained that elected officials are responsible for being administrators of the city’s assets. The public must vote if the city is selling park land. But not parking lot space. In this situation, the city retains ownership of the city hall land which will become Central Park.
Pattty Mooridian, manager at Andiamo Restaurant came to give “full support” to the project. “We think it will be fantastic for Andiamo and for the restaurants and the retail.”
City Commissioner Kyle Dubac requested that more public meetings be held about the project and that input be taken from residents about features they would like to see.
If the deal is approved construction could take place in 2018. City staff would remain in the current building while the new one is being constructed, so there would only be one move. The park would be last after the current City Hall is vacated and removed.
Royal Oak Community Hears Plans for New City Hall, Park & Police Station