Council holds study session on Severstal funding and Artspace

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

Dearborn – Questions were raised, information was presented and a possible second study session was planned during the June 20 meeting in the city council chambers concerning the Dearborn Administrative Center (DAC).

The Dearborn City Council and a crowd of local residents convened to discuss the possible sale of city hall to Artspace, the relocation of city offices= to the DAC and a proposed donation from Severstal and how that money would be used for this project.

The session featured more information on how three of the items are connected and featured presentations for the council by Dearborn Finance Director Jim O’Connor, Director of Economic and Community Development Barry Murray and Artspace Vice President of Property Development and the leader of the project in Dearborn Heidi Kurtze. Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. and City Corporation Counsel Debra
Walling also answered questions from the council and citizens.

O’Connor and Murray detailed the financial benefits
for the city and how the move would cut operation
costs. It is estimated that the move would save the city over $400,000 dollars annually.

“Considering the ageof the current city hall building and the cost of fixing the parking structure and updating the building, the move to the DAC would have numerous and significant advantages and benefits for the city,” Murray said.

Estimated costs of fixing the parking structure and updating the building are around $8.2 million,while selling the current building and renovating the new complex would net the city a savings of roughly $450,000.

O’Reilly Jr. added that the move would not only be cost effective for the city, but would allow for better customer service for residents due to the layout ofthe DAC as opposed to the more widespread campus of the current city hall.

Kurtze stopped in Dearborn on her way back to Artspace headquarters in Minneapolis, MN to give the council a “reassurance of the company’s level of commitment to the project” and to give the public more information about the history of the nonprofit organization. She also reminded the council that Artspace has an August 15 deadline by which the purchase agreement must be signed by to enable them to file with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

“This is not our first project, we’ve been around for a long time,” Kurtze said. “We have a long history of successful low income
tax credit projects. Every community in which Artspace has entered into a pre-development contract with has a project either
in operation already, under construction currently
or they are in a pre-development phase.”

She added that Artspace was excited about the prospect of working in Dearborn.

After the presentations concluded the floor was opened to questions from the audience.

Martin Goleniak asked the council and administration for more clarity of what the actual cost of the proposed move would be on tax payers.

“If buying the new building was such a good deal, why didn’t you tell the public about it and what was going on,” Goleniak
said. “I’m not saying that this project is bad, I’m just wish the city would let the public know what’s happening and what the total cost to the taxpayers.”

Eastborn Neighborhood Association President Marium Wilkie questioned
if the lower income residents in the Artspace building would detract from the neighborhood or negatively affect property values in the city.

O’Reilly said that he had traveled to St. Paul and Minneapolis and had discussed the effect that Artspace had on their neighborhoods and was told that it is was very positive.

“I met with their mayors and they told me that the Artspace projects had increased the value of the properties around them tremendously,” O’Reilly said. “They had new investments around them, new businesses coming in and other people converting spaces in the area.”

Kristin Sickle told the council that she felt that the opportunity to bring more arts into the community should be taken very seriously.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the city,” Sickle said.

“The arts bring creative class to a community. I believe we need to bring more young, creative people into our community. This will help our east end along with the new train station helping our west end.”

Tafelski ended the meeting by saying that another study session may be planned due to community interest in the project.
“I think is an important conversation because everyone wants the best for the city,” Tafelski said.

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