County, Mount Clemens look to partner on City Center project

By Jeremy Selweski, C & G Staff Writer

April 1, 2014

MACOMB COUNTY — An offer by the city of Mount Clemens that would address Macomb County’s parking needs at half the price while also adding a new downtown recreation site has already won widespread support from county officials.

“This is one of the most exciting proposals I’ve ever seen in my eight years serving on the board,” said Dave Flynn, D-Sterling Heights, chair of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners. “It will offer Macomb County greater flexibility when it comes to providing parking, and it will breathe new life into the middle of the city. This project creates a focal point in downtown Mount Clemens while opening up more space near our riverfront.”

The idea was presented to the Board of Commissioners by Stephen Saph, chair of the Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board of Directors, and David Gassen, a principal at the Mount Clemens-based firm Partners in Architecture, at a special board meeting on March 20.

Under the DDA’s concept, Macomb County could potentially save millions of dollars as it tackles its future parking requirements. Rather than spending up to $25 million to demolish and rebuild the current downtown parking structure, as was recommended in a recent study of existing county facilities, county officials could instead aid in the development of property along the Clinton River while more efficiently utilizing city-owned parking lots.

The $13 million project calls for the county’s 37-year-old, 600-space parking deck to be demolished and a multifaceted recreation site — which would be known as City Center — to be built in its place. At the proposed City Center, there would be a splash park in the summer, an ice rink in the winter, a dog park and an amphitheater.

Mount Clemens Mayor Barb Dempsey called the idea a “win-win” for both the city and Macomb County.

“We don’t need to build a new parking structure, so let’s take that space and do something similar to Campus Martius (in downtown Detroit): a water park in the summer, concerts — and in the winter, skating,” she said. “We have plenty of parking around the city to accommodate the more than 700 county employees, the businesses and the visitors. Let’s utilize that space for something that’s more needed than a parking structure. To me, it’s very exciting.”

While freeing up space for the recreation site, the City Center proposal would offer additional parking elsewhere. Under the plan, a new parking deck would be constructed above the lower portion of the parking lot next to the Macomb County Administration Building. This structure would provide 250 additional parking stalls to serve county employees and the public. If needed, an extra layer could be appended to the parking deck in the future, an addition that would provide 225 extra parking spaces. Combined with the 125 existing covered stalls, the lot could hold a total of about 600 vehicles.

County officials believe that there would be even more benefits to the City Center proposal besides saving significant costs, maximizing existing parking space and creating a new public park.

Visitors to the Administration Building would also have easier access to the front entrances, and more water space would be available for public viewing through the demolition of the parking structure.

“I’m really excited that the DDA brought this proposal before the city and the Board (of Commissioners),” said Commissioner Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens. “This could be a really positive thing for Macomb County, Mount Clemens, downtown businesses and residents. We could avoid paying $20-$25 million to build a new parking structure, and we could create some new green space in the middle of the downtown area, which would be a really nice addition to the city.”

Discussions about the proposal are ongoing and are expected to continue alongside the development of Macomb County’s new five-year capital improvement plan, a process that began in February. Flynn stated that he intends to bring a resolution before the board this month recommending that Macomb County begin working with Mount Clemens to flesh out the City Center project. He believes that the DDA’s thoroughly modern approach has opened some commissioners’ eyes.

“This is a really progressive way to think about providing parking, rather than saying, ‘Let’s just build another parking deck because that’s what we’ve always done,’” the board chair stated. “It’s only a conceptual proposal at this point, so everything here is subject to negotiation. But everyone on the board considers this to be a very serious proposal, and we hope to continue moving forward on it.”

Miller concurred with Flynn’s assertion that the concept appears to have across-the-board support from county officials. While many aspects of the plan have yet to be discussed, including how the cost would be divided between the city and county, Miller is hopeful that the two entities will be able to help each other by bringing City Center to life.

“There are still a lot of details that have to be negotiated before we move ahead on anything,” he said, “but I’m committed to working through those details and developing a great plan for all parties involved. This could be the start of a really high-profile partnership between Macomb County and the city of Mount Clemens. It seems like the stars are beginning to align.”

Staff Writer Julie Snyder contributed to this report.

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