Rochester Hills Comes Together at Innovation Hills for State of City Address

Rochester Hills Comes Together at Innovation Hills for State of City Address

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 5, 2021)

Rochester Hills, MI –  In the midst of an evening of aerial performers, the boom of marching band percussion, onstage pyrotechnics, a gigantic American Flag hoisted by a crane waving in the backdrop of a trumpeted Start Spangled Banner song, a spread of fresh fruits and bite sized desserts under a pavilion with dancing and a DJ, and a Disney music-themed fireworks show over a pond ringed with glow-in-the dark-speckled sidewalks, in a park packed with similarly grand amenities, residents of Rochester Hills were treated to updates about municipal governance at work.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett gave his annual State of the City Address at Innovation Hills.  This ever-evolving  110 acre park includes hiking trails, ponds, a waterfall feature, glowing pavement, solar lighting, a kayak landing, inclusive playground equipment, a green roof demonstration, a native plant garden, and long stretches of boardwalks through nature. The playground area had been under construction, so the address was the perfect time to unveil it to the community.

“We have so many people and organizations to thank for what did make it into this Park,” Mayor Barnett said. “Our City Council has believed in this project from the beginning. Director, Ken Elwert, and our parks team brought it to life. And you the community. You’ve played a role as well. You may know that we held a crowdfunding campaign just a couple of months ago. Our goal was to raise $50,000. And if we raised $50,000, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation would give us $50,000 more. If we raised one penny short of $50,000, the MEDC would contribute: zero. So how much did you, the members of our community, contribute? Friends, you blew the doors off of our goal and donated over $106,000! And the MEDC contributed $50,000 on top of that. $106,246 from 402 individual donors. Donating in every increment from $1.00 to $15,000. The donors came from six states, from seven Michigan counties, and from literally every corner of our City!”

Another point of pride for Rochester Hills is the re-opening of VanHoosen Farm, complete with a new roof and new exhibits which showcase the history of the area.

Appreciation for outdoor amenities rose during the pandemic, with attendance up at parks by 300%.

Barnett and city leaders hope to keep the momentum going, with a ballot proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot. “The question you will all be asked is will you allow the City to re-purpose the money we were collecting for the OPC building debt now that it’s paid off, and allow us now to use that same amount for our park system facilities? New investments  and re-investment in our parks. North to south.  East to West.  All without raising your taxes one penny,” Barnett said.

Infrastructure and development are also important topics in the city, with the recent Auburn Road corridor improvements giving the city plenty to be proud of.  There the city was able to update the roadway with more pedestrian-friendly features, traffic calming measures, and place-making tools, including artwork done by local students included in the street-scape.

“The crown jewel of the corridor,” they mayor said, “is the Brooklands Plaza, located within the newly closed section of Emmons Avenue. This new space designated for community events, public gatherings, family picnics, or lazy afternoons is a one‐of‐a‐kind neighborhood feature with all sorts of coolness including the City’s first splash pad. This place has been hopping since we opened it with hundreds of kids dragging their parents there every day.  And those parents, well they are just happy to be outside and enjoying their kids just being kids!”

On top of the new smiles, there are also already economic benefits to the city’s investment.  “Assessing Director Laurie Taylor and her outstanding Department are reporting that the neighborhoods surrounding the new Auburn Road corridor are seeing an 8% annual increase in property values, almost 40% higher than the city as a whole over the last two years.”

City-wide, growth continues.  Barnett touted a 156% increase in new house permits, a 243% increase in total construction value – significantly above the past six years, a 62% increase in the number of inspections performed.

“Folks, we’ve never seen numbers like this,” he said.

Barnett thanked the various city departments and the people who keep the city running smoothly. He also shared the stories of two facilities employees who are recognized as heroes: Mario Iafrate and Ed LaFave.

“In early June, Mario was enjoying an afternoon with his daughters at Yates Park when he noticed a girl, in distress, in the Clinton River. She had ventured too far into the water and Mario realized her panicked expression and immediately took action. He jumped into the river and despite an extremely strong current he carried her through the water to the other side of the riverbank and then walked her over to her family. Not surprisingly, the girl’s parents thanked Mario profusely. If not for Mario’s awareness, quick and decisive action, the outcome may have been very different,” Barnett said.

“Not to be outdone, on July 30th, Ed LaFave, was at Silver Lake Sand Dunes and noticed an overturned truck on the dune. Inside the vehicle was an 18-year old passenger, critically injured from a rollover crash. Ed stayed with the woman who was pinned inside the vehicle between the dashboard and the roof, holding her head and providing support for three hours before rescuers were able to get her out. Hospital staff say it was a miracle she was breathing on her own when she reached the hospital and credited those on site for their quick response and assistance.

“I am so proud of both of these individuals. They are symbolic of the types of employees we are blessed to have at the City of Rochester Hills: Caring, attentive, engaged, kind and always willing to help.”


The spirited evening was in stark contrast to last year’s State of the City, which was held virtually.

“Last year’s State of the City was different,” Mayor Barnett said.  “It was mostly just me, alone, on an empty stage. Taking off my mask just long enough to deliver my remarks. And I hated it!  They did give me a sparkler, but I still hated it.

“Friends, I am so happy to be back. To bring our usual Rochester Hills flair, and to be able to celebrate with all of you this evening in person.  The way God designed State of the City Addresses to be delivered.”

Video of the speech is available on the City of Rochester Hills YouTube page.

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