(December 31, 2006) The City Council of Ferndale, Michigan has voted to hire Robert “Bob” Bruner Jr. as their new City Manager. Bruner, 30, is currently the assistant city manager for the City of Ypsilanti and is also the human resource director.
Bruner said he expects to start his new job in about four weeks. Bruner is expected to get about $100,000 a year plus a car and other benefits. Bruner said he is currently making $64,000 a year at the City of Ypsilanti.
Bruner is the 11th department head or manager to leave the City of Ypsilanti in the last 30 months. Managers that have left include Former Assistant City Manager Shannon Stumbo Bellers, Human Resources Director Shari Kirby, and Public Works Director Harry Hutchison. Former Police Chief George Basar retired to become Police Chief in Howell. Fire Chief Jim Roberts is leaving in January 2007 to become fire chief in Superior Township.
Also jumping ship were the chief architects behind the Water Street Project, Jenifer Goulet and Megan Gibb. Goulet who was the Downtown Development Authority Director and before that Planning Director took a job in Chelsea. While former Planning & Development Director Megan Gibb left for a planning job in Portland, Oregon.
Former HR director Bill Johnstone parted ways before his probation period was up and City Clerk Cherry Lawson, who recently resolved her legal dispute with the City of Ypsilanti, quit to become Clerk in Sedona, Arizona. While not a manager, long time City Assessor Carole Claire, also retired this year.
(December 30, 2006) According to a recent real estate report, Southeast Michigan is being slammed with a glut, they even call it a bloat, of condo developments.
Mark Gilman wrote in the December edition of RealView that “the inventory of unsold condos is far exceeding the inventory of unsold homes in Michigan. For example, in the Downriver area there is a 20-month supply of condos – about 500 existing condos and 164 new construction units — compared to an 11-month supply of homes on the market.”
What is the effect on Ypsilanti? It could be one of the drivers for Freed pulling out of Water Street. However Gilman points out that Condo sales and interest in downtown living is strong in Ann Arbor because for too long, the only housing options were rentals.
Gilman quotes Shawn Nelson, president of the Down River Association of REALTORS when she says, “The builders may only list one or two units, but they may have a 28-unit supply they’re trying to sell on their own.”
The article goes on to say, “In the Downriver area, Nelson attributed much of today’s condo glut to the building boom of several years ago when builders were trying to get the most bang for the buck on expensive land they purchased.”
Gilman tells readers that fifty percent of the previously-owned condo inventory was built in the past three years, and list prices for condos are down 10-20 percent from those of two years ago.
Click on the link to read the rest of Gilman’s article.
(December 29, 2006) Ypsilanti is losing another downtown business as Oasis Cafe is set to close at the end of the year. Joy Inkton, manager of Oasis, said, “It has been a really tough year and half.” Long time customers have been stopping by over the past week to say good bye.
Oasis Cafe originally opened in 2000 and was managed by Paul Metler. Oasis was famous for their Cuban sandwiches and Caesar Salad. Struggling to make ends meet, it closed in 2004. After retooling the menu and redecorating, it was reopened in June of 2005.
Oasis Cafe was operated by Hope Clinic and Prayer Outreach Worship Education and Restoration. The building is owned by Hope Clinic. Besides food, Oasis Cafe was the very first business in Ypsilanti to offer free wireless Internet service to patrons.
In 2003, Oasis Cafe was profiled in a Eastern Echo story that talked about their mission of serving people and the community. Oasis Cafe was the central location of the 2006 Ypsilanti Christmas Dinner put on by Leonardo Christian. Serving hundreds of meals, police even closed off the street and over a thousand toys were given away to local families. Hope Clinic has not announced any plans for the building.
(December 15, 2006) Long time Ypsilanti Fire Chief James “Jim” Roberts will be retiring from the city of Ypsilanti Fire Department in January 2007. Chief Roberts began with the Ypsilanti fire department in 1969 as a fire fighter and has been with the city for 37 years.
It is expected that Chief Roberts will be confirmed as the new Fire Chief for Superior Township on Monday, December 18.
William “Bill” McFarlane, Superior Township Supervisor told YpsiNews.com the Superior Township administrative staff had unanimously recommended Chief Roberts to replace outgoing Fire Chief Garvin Smith. Smith is retiring after being a fire fighter for 50 years.
Roberts will begin work on February 1, said McFarlane. There would be an overlap of one month as Roberts transitions into the job. Outgoing Chief Smith will retire on March 1, 2007.
McFarlane had high praise for Roberts. “Chief Roberts is well respected in the county,” said McFarlane. “We had nine candidates interested in the position and from everyone we spoke with, we heard nothing but accolades for Chief Roberts.”
Superior Township has nine full time fire fighters. The chief and fire marshal are part time employees, each working 20 hours per week. Ypsilanti has 23 full time fire fighters plus a full time fire marshal and chief.
Roberts is the 10th department head at the City of Ypsilanti to retire or leave the city in the past 30 months. The planning director, the DDA director, the police chief, two HR directors, the DPW director, the City clerk, the assistant city manager, and several other key employees in the clerks office, DPW, police department, and assessors office have all recently left the city.
Ypsilanti is struggling with continued budget problems, the stalled Water Street project, continued problems at the Housing Commission, the threat of Visteon/ACH leaving in 2007, and an exodus of department managers and senior employees from the city.
The City of Ypsilanti’s solvency plan calls for cutting three fire fighter positions in 2008. Ypsilanti Council will be meeting on Saturday to begin work on the 2007-2008 budget.
Assistant City Manager Bob Bruner could be the 11th manager to leave Ypsilanti. Bruner is scheduled for a final interview on Saturday, December 16, with the City of Ferndale. Bruner is one of six candidates competing to be Ferndale’s next city manager. Ferndale is expected to make their announcement on a new city manager as early as Monday, December 18.
Track and Field Coach Tom “Mick” Micallef will be inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Hall of Fame in February 2007. Micallef has been coaching track at Ypsilanti High School for 27 years and is one of five Michigan coaches to be honored.
This is the third year for the ceremony and inductees are determined on a point scale, in part determined by longevity of service and the success of the program on the local, regional and state level. The YHS girl’s track team has been state champions numerous times, most recently in 2000, 2004 and 2005.
(December 13, 2006) Hoping the second time will be the charm, Ypsilanti City Council on Tuesday, made an offer to hire a new city clerk. This time, Council offered the job to Saline resident, Rebecca Bintz.
City Council conducted the second round of interviews over two nights of special hearings. The first was December 7th (watch video), the second was December 12th.
Watch Video of the Ypsilanti City Council, December 12, 2006
Council had originally offered the job to Ohioan Lisa Johnson, only to have Johnson fail the background investigation. What started as a search with over thirty candidates came down to just three on the final night. The fourth candidate, Michele Curetin, failed to show up for the final interview.
Council waited about an hour for Curetin to arrive for her interview. When she didn’t, Council decided to forgo the special meeting scheduled for Friday night and began deliberation of the final three candidates.
Originaly there was seven finalists. Amanda Holsinger, currently the interim clerk, withdrew her name from consideration. With six candidates remaining, Council offered the job to Johnson. Council then withdrew their offer to Johnson. Now with five candidates, Council setup a second round of interviews. Another candidate withdrew from the second round of interviews, leaving four. When Curetin failed to show, that left just three finalists.
For a while, John Gawlas, (Dem, Ward 2) pushed to restart the interview process voicing concerns about not having a large enough pool to draw from. The rest of council seemingly wanted to press on with the current candidate pool.
There was a moment when several council members were unhappy when Mayor Paul Schreiber (Dem) asked that the selection of the new city clerk be a unanimous vote (1h 51m). Schreiber defended his request saying that when he was on the Housing Commission “they had an issue where an Executive Director did not have unanimous support of the board and it proved to be a problem that came up every once in a while.”
Gawlas immediately came to the defense of Schreiber’s position saying, “I would want to insure that any candidate coming into an office such as the city clerk’s office had that sense of confidence (of a unanimous vote by council).”
Schreiber got his way when Council voted unanimously to hire Bintz.
The City expects to pay Bintz about $58,000 a year plus benefits and retirement. That is about double what she was making at her last clerk job.
(December 13, 2006) Someone once said, “Boring government is good government.” The School Board meeting on Monday was anything but boring. The Ypsilanti School Board, in a close vote, has voted to remove the “Braves” name from the High School.
Watch Video of the Ypsilanti School Board, December 11, 2006
Over 100 residents, students, former students, and teachers packed the board room to learn the fate of the Braves name. After three hours of public comment, the School Board voted four to three to remove the Braves name from the High School. Voting to remove the name was Cameron Getto, David Bates, Amy Doyle, and Linda Snedacar-Horne. Voting to keep the name were Floyd Brumfield, Andy Fanta and Tom Reiber.
At 23 minutes, there was a very funny and informative report on the history of the name from Josh Glassman, Secretary of the Student Council. According to his research, the original name for the High School was the “Muni’s”. Founded in 1849, the school was called the Ypsilanti Municipal High School. The name was changed in the 30’s as Glassman said, “For obvious reasons.”
The names considered then were the Spartans, the Generals, and the Braves. Glassman asked, no matter what was the decision of the board, that the Student Council play the leading role in selecting a new mascot and name.
The highlight of the evening for many was the Ypsilanti High School Chamber Singers who sang three Christmas Carols at the very beginning of the meeting. They were awesome.
No word yet on what it is going to cost to repaint the water tower.
(December 8, 2006) The City of Ypsilanti’s latest developer for the struggling Water Street Project has pulled the plug on the development. In a memo released to City Council on Thursday night and dated December 8, 2006, City Manager Ed Koryzno announced that Joseph Freed and Associates of Palantine, IL has ceased negotiations with the City for Water Street.
Freed is now the second developer to bow out from the Water Street project and this is the third time the City’s plans have fallen through since work began in 2000.
In the December 8th memo, Koryzno indicated that it was the bad economy that was the driving factor in convincing Freed to withdraw. However, in a memo given to council on October 12, 2006, There was no mention of the problems and Koryzno still planned to bring the development agreement as well as additional financial plans to Council in November.
In October 2006, Council approved another $20 million more in financing for Water Street that Koryzno said was necessary in order for the project to move forward with Freed. Koryzno had said that a development agreement would likely be ready sometime in November or earlier December.
Mayor Paul Schreiber (Dem) said in November that a development agreement was close to being ready and he expected it to to come before Council in December. Few knew that the agreement with Freed was already in trouble.
City Manager Memos to Council
Insiders at City Hall were less than optimistic that a development agreement was going to happen. In an earlier memo to Council on October 24, Koryzno outlined some of the current stumbling blocks in the development agreement. They included an unwillingness from Freed to pay any cash up front for the property as well as an unwillingness for Freed to promise a certain number of units to be built.
In a November 22, 2006 memo to Council, Koryzno stated for the second time in a month that the lagging Michigan economy was a problem and affecting progress with the development agreement. However, Koryzno still planned to have the agreement to Council in December or at special meeting in January for Council to review. Koryzno wanted to have the development agreement in place before Council finished their 2006-2007 budget visioning sessions in mid-January.
The current financing plan, which now includes over $40 million in taxpayer funding, depended on the project being completed in five (5) years in order to pay back the money already borrowed. The City had already refinanced the city’s Water Street bond debt of $13.1 million. The refinance, completed earlier this year, jumped the interest rate by almost 2% more than than the original rate. Worse, because the Water Street project was stalled with no units being built, Council had to roll three years worth of payments into the new debt to give the project time to be built.
In effect, the Council refinanced the credit card, and negotiated a deal whereby there would be no payments for three years, but at a cost. The refinance scheme added $2.1 million in new debt. Add in the payments to developer the city fired in 2004 and the money owed by Ypsilanti City taxpayers was over $16 million.
Water Street History
In December 2004, the City fired the first developer, Biltmore, citing irreconcilable differences. The city then launched a new campaign to solicit bids in 2005 with the Request for Proposals due in July with the city asking developers to pay $5 million for the property and assume the liability on the contamination clean-up.
When it was apparent to city staffers that no developers were planning to respond, the city extended the RFP to August and then called several developers begging them to submit responses. Still, not one developer was planning to submit a bid. In a final move, City Planning officials asked several developers to submit letters of interest. They got three.
The City then announced they had a successful response from their RFP and would be sharing the results with Council. It was about three weeks later that Council and residents found out there were in fact no bids on the project only letters of interest, the City had to start over again.
Things began to fall apart after that. The two staffers most responsible for Water Street, Jennifer Goulet, former head of Planning and then DDA Director, and Megan Gibb, Planning Department manager, both quit. Goulet took a non-profit job in Chelsea, Gibb took a planning job in Portland, Oregon. Brownfield redevelopment coordinator Brett Lenart also quit to take a job with Washtenaw County.
Freed to the Rescue
Former Mayor Chery Farmer (Ind) took an even more active roll trying to secure a developer. She met with numerous Realtors and developers from across the region. Showing off the old Biltmore plans and taking prospective developers on tours of the property. Out of that effort came Freed who said they were interested in the project.
Feed was already working in Ann Arbor and had a project in Royal Oak as well.
Negotiations began in earnest with Freed over the next three months and Freed came to City Hall in July 2006 for a public meeting to unveil the new plans for Water Street. Retail was back on Michigan Avenue and there was a new hope that Water Street would move forward.
Still smarting from the last negotiations with Biltmore, the City set deadlines to complete negotiations with Freed. Lenart was back working on the project as the County loaned him to the City to assist in the negotiations with Freed.
With the first deadline set to expire in October 2006, Council approved an extension to permit the city to continue to negotiate with Freed. In the meantime, the debt continued to pile up. In October 2006, City Council authorized the expenditure of an additional $100,000 of general fund money to pay for attorneys and consultants working on the Freed agreement. Koryzno, at the time, said the money was needed to complete the development agreement.
Looking back at the memos the Council received in the past two months, it is apparent that even before the extension was approved with Freed, the development agreement was in trouble. It is likely that the recent flurry of new debt of some $20 million, was an effort by the City and County to put together an incentive package attractive enough to keep Freed at the table. It didn’t work.
As of December 8th, all of this work has ground to a halt as the City is now left trying to pick up the pieces from the failed negotiations with Freed. Koryzno has said he is forming an advisory committee of local business people experienced in development to suggest options.
In the meantime, despite the city not having a developer, the City plans to spend upwards of another million dollars by September 2007 so as to not lose a $500,000 grant from the state. As one downtown business owner said upon learning about Freed bailing on the project, perhaps when the city finds themselves in a hole, they should first stop digging rather then spending another $1.5 million of taxpayer money on this project.
Counting all the taxpayer money including loans and grants from the City, State and Federal government, the current amount of taxpayer money spent or committed to Water Street is estimated to be over $40 million dollars. By the time all the debts are paid off, the taxpayer costs for Water Street is estimated to be over $90 million.
With just 25 acres of developable land in a 38 acre project area, that comes out to over $1.6 million per buildable acre making Water Street some of the most expensive land in southeast Michigan. With the announcement today, The City of Ypsilanti no longer has a developer nor a viable plan for the Water Street project.
East Cross Street blog by City Councilman Brian Robb (Dem, Ward 3)
(December 5, 2006) Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County Administrator, came before City Council on Tuesday to explain the jail overcrowding and to hear from Council and citizens the impacts it is having on Ypsilanti neighborhoods experiencing increased crime.
Watch Video of Ypsilanti City Council, December 5, 2006
Later in the meeting, Ypsilanti City Council went into closed session and emerged to vote on acquiring Parkview Apartments. Council agreed to work with the Ypsilanti Housing Commission to buy Parkview from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at a substantially reduced rate, perhaps for as little as $100, and plans to create more government owned housing.
Parkiew is located in the Gateway area on the south side of Ypsilanti at Hamilton and I-94. There are 144 units in Parkview and currently less than 40% are habitable. The rest of the units are boarded up.
Mayor Paul Schreiber (Dem) has pledged that if the city is successful in acquiring Parkview, it would be put on the tax rolls at the full assessed value and the Housing Commission would pay property taxes at the full taxable rate.
The Housing Commission currently owns 197 units and paid about $6,500 in taxes to the city in 2005. The Housing Commission also manages an additional 200 Section 8 units in the city.
The City and Housing Commission are now planning to go toe to toe with Emmanuel Ku from New York who is also trying to buy Parkview. Ku won a HUD auction earlier this year for $2.7 million or about $18,000 per unit. Ku was ranked number three in a top 10 list of the worst landlords in New York City. (Read the report)
The City and Council will lobby Congressman John Dingell (Dem) to convince HUD to sell the property to the Housing Commission rather than Mr. Ku.
The Ypsilanti Courier will be closing their office at 133 W. Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti. Austen Smith, editor of the Courier said the parent company, Journal Register, had decided to close the office to save money. Staff will continue to work from their Belleville office.
Smith said, “The closing of the Courier office is a purely financial decision and does not speak to our continuing dedication to news coverage in the Ypsilanti area or our commitment to the community at large. As there are several of you who are business-people on this email list, I am hoping and praying that you understand that this was an inevitable decision because of the lack of staff and use we get out of the office itself.”
The office will close on January 1, 2007. The decision to close the office will not affect the publication of the Ypsilanti Courier. It will remain a weekly newspaper.
A number of other offices and business have closed or moved in the last year. Staffers in Congressman John Dingell’s office said they were closing their office on South Washington and moving to a smaller office in the Key Bank Building. Silver Birch Engineering moved their downtown office to Ohio. Citizens Bank closed their downtown branch in September. The used bookstore next to Bombadill’s closed as well as Sunday’s Restaurant on North Washington.
BW-3 at Washington and Pearl is leaving the old Huron Hotel to relocate to Ypsilanti Township.
There are some bright spots. The Rocket, funky vintage, toys and candy, and United and Sonz, business services and entertainment promotion, has opened on Michigan Avenue. Mi-Hut which serves coffee, pastries all made in their shop, and sandwiches has re-opened with new owners on Pearl Street next to BW-3. Look in the Attic, reproduction antique hardware, glassware, and wide selection of gifts opened on Michigan Avenue.