Council approves sale of City Hall to Artspace

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The City Council authorized the mayor to enter into a purchase agreement and covenant deed with Artspace to sell portions of the City Hall complex.

The authorization came at the city council meeting July 23.

By a vote of 5-1, with Council President Thomas Tafelski voting against the resolution and Councilman Brian O’Donnell absent, the council approved the sale of parts of the complex “as is” for $1.65 million, the price at which the complex was appraised.

The approved sale could be the first move in the relocation of city operations, as the sale of the building would allow the city to move into the ADP office building that it purchased last year for $3.2 million. City officials estimate the move would save the city $400,000 in operational costs annually.

The vote came after almost an hour of conversation between the audience, councilors and Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. Opinions both for and against the sale were heard.

Kristyn Taylor, a city council candidate in the August primary, told the council she had sent out a survey regarding the sale and that a majority of the responses she received were not positive of the move.

“I think it’s important that you hear the voices of the residents based on this survey,” Taylor said.

In response, Councilman David Bazzy said he understands concerns about the possible move, but that anything that will help the city government run more efficiently needed to be explored.

“The reality is city government is not about a building,” Bazzy said. “City government is about people and about services. Our obligation is to be smarter and more efficient.”

Council candidate Stephen Dobkowski Jr. also spoke against the sale. He said that community members he spoke to do not approve the sale.

“People are not happy about this,” Dobkowski said.

Councilman Robert Abraham said the city would be “foolish” not to explore the move of city operations if it saved money and was more efficient to run.

“We can stay here, but every dollar we take out of the general fund to renovate city hall is one less dollar for police, the pools, parks, the library and countless city services,” Abraham said. “We have to move forward.”

Abraham also referenced how the recent rainy weather has caused flooding in the subterranean parts of the complex. He said that was a sign of the expensive types of repair work that would be needed to improve the current city hall.

O’Reilly said the city is looking toward the future in considering the move.

“We want to look at our long-term future and make sure that Dearborn is strong and healthy 20 years from now,” O’Reilly said, “no matter what else is going on around us.”

He reminded the audience and council that if for whatever reason Artspace does not receive Michigan State Housing Development Authority support and the deal falls through, the contract reverts ownership of the complex back to the city. Then the city could choose to sell the former ADP building stay in its present location.

“Tonight’s decision is simply to get Artspace in the position to apply for state and federal money to make the project work,” O’Reilly said. “If Artspace does not receive the money, this project will not move forward.”

Artspace is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit real estate developer that wants to renovate the city hall complex to house and create work spaces for artists as well as spaces for art studios, art organizations and creative businesses. This would be their its property in Michigan.

Artspace officials looked at several buildings in Dearborn and said the city hall complex was the best fit for their needs. They hope to house 45 to 49 live-in artists as well as use the location of the complex for different artistic performances including music and movies.

With the city council’s approval and the deed in hand, Artspace officials will send in an application for financing from MSHDA in August under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program. They should hear back in November whether they’re approved. If they are approved, the city will move out of the building in June 2014. If the funding is not approved until February, the city will not move until the fourth quarter of next year.

Renovations to the building are expected to take 12 to 15 months with the first tenant moving into the development in October 2015.

The sale does not include city hall park or the city-owned parking lot south of John Nagy Drive. The war memorials and statue of former Mayor Orville Hubbard in City Hall Park would be moved to the new city hall.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at