Mayor sees brighter, bigger future for downtown

Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — If all goes according to plan, the city’s newest residents will set up housekeeping this year on the site of the long-dormant Lincoln Park Theater.

Mayor Thomas Karnes said the realization of that would mean more than just the number of people joining the population.

“Get those lofts done, coupled with other businesses, I don’t see why we can’t expand,” Karnes said. “A nice little walk-able downtown.”

That’s the picture Karnes hopes to paint next month at his first State of the City address, tentatively set for March and hosted by the Rotary Club of Lincoln Park.

Much attention in recent years has gone to the city’s economic woes – reports similar to many metropolitan Detroit and Downriver communities wrestling with shrinking revenues against rising costs. Karnes said that optimistic projections of a renewed business district have been difficult to consider in light of the city’s recent financial outlook.

“We have the specter of the state review hanging over us,” Karnes said.

An audit report from Plante & Moran is expected at this week’s city council meeting which will frame the next session with state treasury officials to review the city’s anticipated budget deficit, a figure in excess of $3 million a year ago that Karnes said has improved, hopefully enough to avoid further state action.

“We have the specter of the state review hanging over us,” Karnes said. “Until we have the determination of if they’re going to consent decree, or have an emergency manager, it’s hard to tell exactly what we’re going to do.”

On the plus side, Karnes said “great strides have been made,” and city officials continue working towardslong-term solutions to include new businesses, infrastructure upgrades and new residential activity. An encouraging sign has been the Lincoln Park Loft project, which last year began turning the old Park Theater into a dozen residential units and 1,200 square feet of retail space.

The $12 million Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency investment will be joined by another two dozen residential units now being finished on Electric Avenue. Karnes met last week with developers who – in spite of a few glitches that stalled progress late last year – look for completion in 2014.

Progress will be slow, as Karnes noted infrastructure projects will begin this year that won’t result in immediate change but will put $20 million worth of bonds to work on local streets.

“Baby steps,” Karnes said, and part of a multi-faceted approach to financial recovery. Karnes said that 2013 included several smaller business openings – or reopening with the Cathay House recovering from a fire – and development both downtown on Fort Street and at Dix and Southfield.

“A lot of little stores are coming in, which is a sign of healing,” Karnes said. “We’re on the rebound here.It’s just a matter of if the state lets us hang on. I think lenders are a little leery right now.

“Until that time we’re going to do everything to reduce costs, maintain services and look for grants.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at