Sunday, October 07, 2012

Proposed Relocation Of Mass Ave Fire Station

 [UPDATED]: Well the dirty backroom deals of the Ballard administration and the pay-to-play developers and contractors are starting to rear their ugly head in the wake of the City-County Council's passage of Proposal 15, which expands the downtown TIF area to include some of the most valuable parcels of property in the downtown area. During the debate over the passage of Proposal 15, Deputy Mayor Deron Kintner was asked by Councilor Brian Mahern why he was including the Lockerbie Square parcel bounded by College and Michigan Streets in the expanded area since the Whitsett Group had already announced plans to build mixed use market rate apartments and commercial/retail, which would include significant off-street parking. Kintner told Mahern that the Whitsett Group had sought assistance from the city for its planned developed, and that its plans were tied to the redevelopment of the fire house parcel in the 500 block of Mass Ave.  The Ballard administration has been hell bent on tearing down the current building that houses Fire Station 7 and the fire department's headquarters, along with the neighboring credit union, and giving it to a private developer, along with tens of millions of dollars in public subsidies to redevelop the parcel. Where the Ballard administration planned to move the fire house has been a mystery up until now. Word on the street is that the administration has cut a deal with Whitsett to put the new fire house smack dab in the middle of the residential Lockerbie neighborhood.

Kintner claimed that the Whitsett Group required the city's financial assistance for the redevelopment of the North Lockerbie parcel, which contradicted the previous public statements of the developer when it sought neighborhood buy-in for his project. After acquiring the parcel, developer Joe Whitsett presented renderings prepared by the architectural firm, A3, which is owned by Dave Gibson. [Note: The post previously identified in error a firm co-founded and co-owned by Councilor Vop Osili, who sponsored Proposal 15 as the architect on the North Locerkbie project. My sincere apologies to Mr. Whitsett for the error].  A2SO4 did work on the Millikan mixed use project proposed by Flaherty Collins adjacent to Barton Towers, which is also included in the expanded TIF area. A2SO4 also designed Trail Side, a mixed use project initiated by the Riley Area Development Corporation. Proposal 15, as introduced, included Trail Side in the expanded TIF area and was only removed by Osili after objections were made to including a project that had already been completed. A2SO4 is also redeveloping an old church at the corner of North and College adjacent to the North Lockerbie Parcel as its new headquarters, property that has been included in the expanded TIF area by Osili's Proposal 15. Osili claims he sold his interest in A2SO4, but he still listed his financial and employee relationship with the firm on the financial disclosure form he filed in February of this year after he introduced Proposal 15.

Whitsett's original plan called for income-qualified apartments mixed with street-level retail/commercial space. When he was unable to obtain tax credits for income-qualified apartments, Whitsett announced that he would be moving forward with market rate apartments since there still seems to be strong demand for apartments downtown despite the depressed economy. He erected a sign along Michigan with a rendering of the proposed project, which indicates construction work will begin in 2013. Whitsett indicated that he preferred anchoring the retail space with a grocery store or a drug store. He hoped to fill in the additional space with restaurants, small retail stores and office space. An impediment to retail development is the fact that the parcel is bounded by two, one-way streets; however, the City had agreed to make College a two-way street from Mass Avenue southward at least as far as New York Street to encourage street level retail development on the parcel when a prior developer, Hearthview, launched redevelopment of the parcel several years ago before it faltered financially. Lockerbie residents reacted very favorably to Whitsett's original development plans for the parcel, but a fire station is an entirely different use than anyone had contemplated for this parcel.

The Lockerbie People's Club will conduct its monthly meeting this Tuesday, October 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Max Kade room at the Athenaeum. I would highly encourage residents of Lockerbie to attend this meeting and voice your opinions on relocating the firehouse to your neighborhood, which will be treated to blaring sirens 24 hours a day, and which may serve as a deterrent to attracting more desirable businesses as part of the development. Nobody from the City or the developer has approached residents of the neighborhood about this potential location for the fire station, even though it was matter-of-factly discussed in private discussions with councilors during the debate over passage of Proposal 15. Councilor Osili has certainly not sought any input from his constituents. He seems more interested in using his position on the council to financially feather his own nest and that of his developer and contractor friends rather than representing the interests of his constituents. Fire Station 7 is one of the busiest fire stations in the city. It currently houses Engine #7, Ladder #7, Rescue Squad #7, Tactical Rescue #7, a trailer that carries two rescue boats, Car #1107 (safety officer's vehicle) and Car #1201 (shift commander's vehicle).

UPDATE: In addition to the clarification as to the architect being used by the Whitsett Group, Mr. Whitsett also wanted to make it clear that he has not supported Mayor Greg Ballard's campaign committee. He describes himself as a life-long Democrat who supported Ballard's opponent in the last year's campaign, Melina Kennedy. "While I have a high regard for our current Mayor, no financial or other contributions have been made to the Mayor’s campaigns by myself, any of our companies, or any of the owners," Whitsett stated in an e-mail. "To state that we are involved in a 'pay to play' situation is flat-out wrong." Whitsett previously worked as a partner at Ice Miller and later worked for Pedcor Investments before founding the Whitsett Group in 2007.


CircleCityScribe said...

Mayor Ballard already closed a big downtown fire station, #5 to give it away to Clarian Health. I'm not sure where the water rescue or other special units in that fire station are.

Now he wants to close the other big fire station in our city, that is centrally located and has special equipment/team not found in other stations.

-Seems like taking care of the rich investors is more important than Public Safety to Mayor Ballard!

Paul K. Ogden said...

Whitsett doesn't say whether he contributes to Democratic councilors who support the project. It's more than the Mayor.