By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – When he accepted the position this summer, City Administrator Bryce Kelley was aware of the challenges facing most of the region. The potential for growth and development existed – at least on paper – and the response to recent projects only confirmed his expectations.
“I’ve learned is how strong the interest is in supporting development,” Kelley said. “Southgate has a wonderful menu of activities and interests, and more depth to the city in terms of loyalty, dedication and longevity in residents than I’d appreciated.”
Kelley was familiar with the city’s struggles and challenges through his most recent post as director of Economic Development for Wayne County. Over the past decade Southgate has been one of many cities whose populations, tax bases and budgets have endured dramatic swings. Coupled with an economic recession, local governments struggled to redefine themselves.
“The financial stress of the region – and country – taught an important lesson when governments were forced to shrink,” Kelley said. “Those who did it in a planned way were able to come out of it with an effective, right-sizing activity. Southgate is now closer to its right size than it was.”
Plans, however, must be matched with local support, which Kelley said has been well demonstrated through recent projects that are laying the foundation of a redefined city. This year saw the completion of the first phase of Market Center Park, the ambitious rejuvenation of Southgate Shopping Center and the former Montgomery Ward site.
“It’s a terrific example and can be a model for other places,” Kelley said. “Its potential is endless.”
Designed as a venue for both planned events and as magnet for residents to gather, meet or shop, live entertainment can further spur business and commercial activity.
“It’s not just the government,” Kelley said. “We’ve got strong drama and theater groups, sports venues and opportunities for people to do things. We also learned there are many partners out there who want to support the city and develop its potential.”
Now settled in office and administrator of a stabilized city, Kelley said his agenda includes reviewing and – something that hasn’t been considered too often in recent years – enhancing existing services through staff and resource investments. The city is well poised to maintain if not improve revenues, its desirability reflected in having the fourth-shortest turnover time in the state for how long homes stay on the market before a sale.
“Our residential stock is good,” Kelley said. “We’re located in the right place with proximity to Detroit, direct access to Canada and to recreation and resources.”
Kelley said he continues reaching out to businesses, to neighborhood groups and investors for partnerships to support the revitalization of commercial corridors and quality-of-life issues.
“The continuing challenge in government is to balance the delivery of services with the resources we have,” Kelley said. “As revenues grow it’s probably time for us to look at staffing, and if we need to fill some spots or convert part-time employees to full-time. The action plan moving forward will include watching the staffing levels. That’s a priority.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)