‘Flurry of activity’ develops in city

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — The worst of the economic storm may not be quite over, but city officials said there are indications that progress and recovery aren’t too far away.

Southgate City Administrator Brandon Fournier said that several recent projects — a brownfield site cleanup, the pending demolition of Montgomery Ward and businesses under construction — represent “a relative flurry of activity” that will hopefully spark more of the same in 2013.

“Out with the old and in with the new,” Fournier said of some long-awaited announcements. Earlier this month the city council concluded negotiations to begin environmental remediation work on a brownfield site in the 13000 block of Dix-Toledo.

The former Cardinal Cleaners has been a more than two-year point of contention between city officials and land owner Ernest Abercrombie, who signed over his property rights to attorney Neil Silver. Under the Clean Michigan Initiative, a $594,000 grant had been awarded two years ago for cleaning and redeveloping the contaminated site, but no progress was made.

After Abercrombie relented ownership, in August the city council restored the grant acceptance, and Fournier said last week that bids were awarded for the project, expected to begin within two weeks.

“There were some logistical issues,” Fournier said of the lengthy delay. “But we think we’ve moved past that and should progress on schedule.”

Fournier said the cleanup is expected to be complete by mid-December, clearing the way for new business at the site.

An effort to attract new businesses throughout the city will continue next month with the scheduled demolition of the formerMotgomery Ward store in the Southgate Shopping Center at Eureka and Trenton roads. A demolition is scheduled for Oct. 15 of the anchor store that closed in 2001 and began a decade of decline for the strip mall that, when opened in 1958, represented one of the largest shopping centers in the region.

“By today’s standards it’s a small site,” Fournier said. “It’s difficult to redevelop. The pads around the site are doing well, and there’s some more interest in the remaining spaces.”

Fournier said that progress required a new approach to bring in a variety of smaller stores rather than follow the conventional big-box anchor method with satellite businesses.

“We had to redesign the interaction between retail outlets,” Fournier said. In that way, progress made in incremental steps, Southgate kept pace with the constant challenge faced by most communities in the region of lost retail business, declining property values and populations, and budget deficits leaving local government scrambling to maintain services and staffing.

With new businesses — an in-development Tim Horton’s, construction of a new animal shelter and investment in Kiwanis Park — Fournier said the city remains in position to withstand the economic ups and downs.

“We were able to create an environment to take advantage of opportunities,” Fournier said. “There will still be some rough waters ahead, but we remained stable and are now able to do things like this.”.

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)