By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE — The renaissance is ready to begin; planted seeds are set to bear fruit.
A year ago, Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa spoke of the city’s anticipated rebirth in his annual address, a speech that outlined what he called “the foundation for a municipal renaissance.”
In his 2013 State of the City address Wednesday at Holiday Inn, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Southgate, Kuspa said the foundation held firm.
“I stand before you with a heightened sense of optimism,” Kuspa began. “We are now seeing the fruits of our labor.”
Last year saw the demolition of the former Montgomery Ward store in the Southgate Shopping Center. Mickey Sisskind, the owner of the site, funded the razing of the building and turned the property over to the city for use as a public gathering place.
Final plans are being developed for the strip mall site, and include Downriver Gymnastics taking over the former Farmer Jack spot. Kuspa thanked owner Kelli Cook for a $1 million investment in the city that will help spur redevelopment of the center.
Nearby MJR Theatre will break ground this year on a $3.5 million expansion of its cinema complex, to include a 40-feet-by-80-feet screen that will rank among the largest in southeast Michigan.
Kuspa said that $15 million worth of infrastructure improvements in 2012 included the Fort Street reconstruction project, completed one year ahead of schedule, and the Reeck Road repaving. The anticipated spark of redevelopment was seen with the opening of Michigan Vehicle Solutions at the former Saturn dealership, a high-tech presence bringing additional jobs to the community.
AJM Packaging is expected to continue its expansion, and a new Hampton Inn is under construction near Interstate 75 and Prechter Boulevard.
Kuspa said that in addition to commercial projects and work on main roads, 2012 included more than $1 million worth of improvements to residential streets and sidewalks. That investment will be matched if not topped in 2013.
Kuspa said the city’s renaissance won’t be all work and no play.
“We have also focused our efforts to ensure that our recreation programs continue to attract residents of all ages,” Kuspa said.
Private partnerships and federal grants added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city’s leisure activities, including an updated senior center, the opening of Southwinds Bar and Grill, a renovated clubhouse, Parkside Gardens Banquet Facility and a golf course set for “its most successful year in recent memory.”
Recreational improvements were also seen at Kiwanis Park, courtesy of the Downtown Development Authority and a gift to the city from Walt Oben of Southgate Ford, to provide a proper home for one of the city’s key attractions, Great Lakes Live Steamers, in the Kiwanis Train Pavillion.
“This impressive structure represents the first major reinvestment in our park system in over a decade,” Kuspa said.
For many southeast Michigan communities, recent years have seen reductions and layoffs in municipal services and public safety departments. Southgate, Kuspa said, avoided many of those issues and instead moved forward with new equipment, stable staffing and upgrades.
“We must continue to find new ways to fund our programs,” Kuspa said. “Grant dollars are one option that my administration actively pursues.”
More than $5 million in grant money was received in recent years, funds that allowed the purchase of a new fire truck, upgraded fire and emergency response equipment and a mobile command terminal to improve response times.
From a business standpoint, 2012 was the third year of the Southgate Business Improvement Grant Program that awarded Downtown Development Authority grants of more than $250,000 to the local business community, which prompted an additional $4 million worth of investments to the Eureka Road Business District, as seen with a remodeled Dick Genthe Chevrolet, newcomers Tim Horton’s and Cold Stone Creamery, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and a renovated Mexican Gardens.
“These are just a few examples of the more than 40 businesses that either came to Southgate or substantially reinvested in their business,” Kuspa said. “This represents a 45 percent increase over 2011 levels, further validating that we are on the right track. The work that we have done is bearing fruit and will be remembered by generations of Southgate residents.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])