City touts private-public partnerships

Photo by J. Patrick Pepper

Photo by J. Patrick Pepper

Oakwood Healthcare Inc. Chief Operating Officer Joseph Diederich (fourth from left) addresses a crowd of elected officials from across state during a tour of Oakwood and Midwest Healthcare’s new joint venture medical office facility at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Schaefer. The tour, which was part of the Michigan Municipal League convention held last week at the Hyatt Regency-Dearborn, was designed to highlight public-private development partnerships.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — During a tour of the Dearborn Town Center project on Thursday, a handful of municipal officials from across Michigan came away impressed.

“This is great to see all of this coming together and jobs being created with the economy like it is,” said Portland City Councilman Joel VanSlambrouck as he ambled through the second-floor of the under-construction medical office facility. The project is expected to create 206 new jobs and retain 300 more.

“I wish I could say I created this many jobs,” VanSlambrouck said.

VanSlambrouck was one of about 20 officials who took the walk-through, all of whom were in town for the Michigan Municipal League Convention, held Sept. 21 through 24 at the Hyatt Regency-Dearborn. The tour was one of a series of “ask-the-experts” sessions focused on downtown development through public-private partnerships.

Supplying the experts were the city of Dearborn; the contractor on the project, Southfield-based REDICO; and the private partners who eventually will occupy much of the 125,000 square-foot facility, Oakwood Healthcare Inc. and Midwest Healthcare Inc.

As the group assembled on the circular driveway at the building’s main entrance on Calhoun street, Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. ticked off a list of talking points.

“They’re at 96 percent occupancy and they’re not even open yet,” O’Reilly said, “and they have secured a number of leases that we really believe will benefit the entire area. As we all know, (the medical industry) is one of the few growing industries.”

Located across Schaefer from City Hall on Michigan Avenue, the projected $70 million facility was made possible when the city purchased the site in 2005 with an eye toward redevelopment and selected REDICO two years later to manage the project.

O’Reilly said the location’s former occupant, a vacant Montgomery Ward store, had strong emotional ties with many residents who grew up shopping there, making the project a tough sell at times. But progress would not be stifled by nostalgia, he said.

“We had to work through a lot of those issues, but in the end I think people are really going to be excited by the finished product,” O’Reilly said.

Midwest President and Chief Executive Offi er Dr. Mark Saffer agreed, saying the project could be a model for other cities to follow.

“This is going to be a destination point,” Saffer said. “Hopefully our success here can inspire you to do the same thing in your community.”

The prospect seemed alluring to most of the visitors in attendance. VanSlambrouck, who also is a board member of Portland’s Economic Growth Corp., said officials there were pursuing just such an option before the economy crashed and demand sputtered.

“We actually annexed 58 acres of land to do something like this – with medical technology – but the economy has kind of sidelined that for right now,” VanSlambrouck said, adding, “We think the interest is still there, and we’re hoping we will be able to move forward when the economy picks back up.”

Grosse Pointe Mayor Dale Scrace, an architect and businessman before entering politics, said the Town Center itself was “great.” And like VanSlambrouck, Scrace said scarce financing has sidelined some public-private developments in his city, which made the project all the more impressive to him.

But what really stood out to Scrace on the tour was not the building’s next-generation floor plan or its energy-efficient features — it was who showed up.

“When you get the mayor here, you get the doctor (Saffer) here, you have the Oakwood VP (Oakwood Chief Operating Officer Joseph Diederich), it’s really impressive,” Scrace said. “I think it shows what a great partnership they have.”