Oak Park Has Lots to Celebrate in State of the City Address
(Crystal A. Proxmire, July 11, 2022)
Oak Park, MI – The City of Oak Park has lots to celebrate – literally. One of them is a parcel that abuts 9 Mile Road where dozens of residents and supporters gathered on June 28 under a large tent for the annual State of the City address. City Manager Erik Tungate shared that the space where they’d gathered is slated to become a pocket park, which connects the neighborhood to the linear park alone 9 Mile.
City Manager Erik Tungate started off the evening with a moment of silence for those who lost their lives due to the pandemic, as well as to thank the City Commission, the 250 employees of the city, and department heads like Megan Burke of Human Resources, Kim Marrone of Economic Development, Kimberly Schaaf of the Library, Laurie Stasiak of Recreation, City Clerk Ed Norris, Deputy City Manager of Community Services Crystal Vanvleck, Director of Planning Rob Barrett, DPW Director Dave Decoster, IT Director Ricardo Singson, Finance Director Saundra Crawford, Public Safety Director Steve Cooper and Assistant City Manager Kevin Yee who is ending his longtime career with the city.
“In Oak Park, we pride ourselves on our collaborative nature that embraces creativity,” Tungate said. “The Linear Park you were able to explore earlier is an example of that. The trailhead down the street and the two pocket parks across the street are also examples of that. The very location of our State of the City Address tonight and the fact that this location will soon be a connector park is another example of that.
“The creation of this Nine Mile linear park has been made possible by so many, and there are several organizations and people I would like to acknowledge for their support.Through a 2021 Patronicity Grant, we were able to raise $52,000 — more than our $50,000 goal to help add the amenities on the park you see here today. We as the City matched these funds, but without the support of the community that was exhibited through this grant, what we have here today would not have been possible. So, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the supporters listed on the banner behind us.”
“Grant funds are a huge part of this project and tonight, I also want to announce that we have received two more grants from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Legacy Funds at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
The first is a grant for the future Connector Park, which, believe it or not, we are currently standing on.This grant, along with one from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, will allow us to secure the amenities that are going to make this park, the place to be. A zip-line, barrier free play equipment, and more shaded seating areas… that’s right, this space is soon going to be another Oak Park place that inspires us.”
He also announced that the Legacy Funds at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan are also supporting a mobile recreation unit in Oak Park.
“This unit will serve our youth between the ages of 6 to 17 years of age with resources to enjoy recreational activities throughout the City. We could say, it is the year of Recreation here in our city. Coming off the heels of these announcements we are also in the middle of our Elevate Oak Park Project, which is looking to reimagine what parks and recreation opportunities we offer.
“We are asking you to think big when it comes to our parks and recreation so we can figure out how to make your dreams a reality. If you haven’t been to one of our engagement sessions we have more coming up soon, so watch out for dates and times and come out to let your ideas be heard!”
The City Manager also talked about the budget, and ways the public can be involved.
For Fiscal Year 2022-23 the City of Oak Park will do the following:
- Receive over $300,000 in new revenues to the General Fund from expiring Brownfields,
- Receive over $1.5 million in our last installment of Federal COVID assistance dollars,
- And, add additional revenue from the positive economic development projects throughout the city and the over 10% increase in taxable value that we have been experiencing.
“Because property tax revenues represent over 60% of total revenue, a stronger tax base supports a healthy, sustainable budget and it allows the City to provide high quality of life amenities, which includes our continued focus on public safety,” Tungate said. “In the upcoming year, we budgeted to add three additional public safety officers to our force. I’m also excited to announce here tonight we will be adding a new firetruck to our existing fleet.”
He also touted some of the key things we accomplished in the last year: “One highlight I am especially proud of is the addition of our Resident Services Coordinator function.Through the addition of this position, we have been able to streamline how residents connect with the City and obtain information. Residents can literally call one person and receive a direct answer to their question or concern. This is a groundbreaking addition to the services we already offer.”
Tungate also announced that Public Safety officers will soon be wearing body-worn cameras thanks to federal funding that Congressperson Brenda Lawrence helped secure.
“I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the support of Congresswoman Lawrence and how these cameras will add another level of trust and transparency into an already well-respected public safety department,” he said.
Tungate closed with a nod towards teamwork, saying “We have managed to be effective in Oak Park because we work cohesively towards a common goal. All things are possible with the support of you, the residents of Oak Park.”
Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan spoke next, also echoing the sentiment of teamwork. “It is teamwork that supports all the new groundbreaking projects that improve our quality of life. All the work is worth it and I am glad we get to do it together!” she said.
“We are in a transformative phase here in Oak Park and at every turn we are continuously taking steps for the better by breaking new ground, trying innovative projects, and becoming known as a regional leader.”
“I want to highlight how and why we able to provide such high quality services and amenities… and that is through a thorough and intentional budget process.
“On an annual basis the City Council works closely with City Manager Tungate and our City Directors to understand the needs of our community and how we can ensure tax dollars are allocated to best meet those needs.
“The budget process can be daunting but through the vision and expertise of City Manager Tungate we have been able to continually pass a balanced budget that reflects our values of excellence. Just last month we passed a budget that highlights our dedication to public safety, recreation and creating a business-friendly environment.
“If you have not noticed, things are happening here in Oak Park and our business community is at the forefront! We have literally been breaking new ground with multiple new businesses for some time now! Ten years ago, I would have never imagined we’d be where we are… we have breweries, a water tower social district and other new businesses.”
The Mayor said 22 new businesses have opened since the pandemic began, including Dog and Pony Show, Unexpected Craft Brewing Company, Oak Park Social, and Berkley Coffee – all in the “Water Tower Social District” along 11 Mile Road. She also announced that two new restaurants are slated to open soon – Salud Eleven and Oak Parker.
“The Eleven Mile corridor isn’t the only place in our city that is thriving,” McClellan said. “If you happen to drive by the former Michigan Light Guard Armory site, you will see a whole different landscape compared to just a few years ago. I am excited to announce the long-time vacant site is now set to be 100% developed!”
Other announcements included:
— Forgotten Harvest, a beloved community partner located on Greenfield, opened its new 78,000 square foot purpose specific headquarters on Eight Mile Boulevard.
This space is large enough to bring all employees under one roof to accomplish its mission of providing fresh and healthy food options to people while breaking down barriers that prevent individuals from having access.
Forgotten Harvest is an asset to not only Oak Park, but the entire region and we are blessed to have them right here in our city.
— The Opus Group and their tenant, Tire Wholesalers Inc, also broke ground this month on what is the final piece to developing the former Armory site.
The Opus Group is designing and constructing a 275,000 square foot spec industrial building on the site and it has already been pre-leased by Tire Wholesalers who are making Oak Park their headquarters.
“Once again, ten years ago, such economic development was just a dream and the reality of new ground being broken on the former Armory site began shortly thereafter — when FedEx Ground Distribution Center came to Oak Park and opened its facility in 2017,” she said. “This was a development that helped shift Oak Park from a surviving community to one that is thriving. Now, here we are in 2022 embracing the concept of breaking new ground all around town.”
Other projects include a 30 until apartment project with ground level live/work space called “The Nine,” as well as a dog park that is being constructed in Lessenger Park.
The Mayor also shared her pride over recent investments in parks and public art. The linear park along 9 mile features playground equipment for kids and adults, as well as art installations including Oak Park artist Dale Teachout’s “Hoops Kid,” and “Earth Girl” sculptures, the Oak Leaf Monument by Foster Wiley, and the Dog Sculpture by Dale Rogers.
“We re-imagined what a traditional park setting can look like — this park offers countless interactive amenities including a Ninja Challenge and provides access to the soon-to-be connector park. These spaces provide wonderful amenities to the neighborhood,” Mayor McClellan said. “The Nine Mile Redevelopment project is a microcosm of what our parks and recreation opportunities across the city can look like.”
Other points of pride included the MOGO bike rental service and the addition of bike lanes through the community, The Oak Park Juneteenth Celebration, World Dance Day, Film Festival, and affordable housing projects. Plus the city is proud to have gained population while many others in the area have declined.
Oak Park is “a city that isn’t afraid to try new concepts, think outside the box and simply just go for it!” she said. “We have a lot to be proud of Oak Park!”