By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — Preparing her remarks for next month’s State of the City address, Mayor Kyle Stack looked forward to offering a bit of cautious optimism.
“I think we’re seeing a little upswing,” Stack said. “From what I hear from the assessor, I think there will be a steadiness this next year.”
The annual address, at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 4 at the Westfield Activities Center, 2700 Westfield Road, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Trenton and Trenton Business Association, will review notable issues affecting the business and economic climate of the city. Stack said the economic report card reveals positive marks on some levels, but room for improvement in some areas.
Among the top priorities, Stack said, will be resolving long-unanswered questions regarding the former Riverside Osteopathic Hospital property on Jefferson. The complex’s long history after a 2001 purchase by Henry Ford Health Systems went through several owners and deed restrictions.
Stack said the current owner, Dr. Iqbal Nasir, initially planned an ambitious, $13 million assisted living center for the site before turning his attentions to a property in Riverside. The complex remains vacant, at times a magnet for scavengers, curiosity seekers and often vandals. Residents on nearby properties have lost patience, Stack said.
“I wouldn’t want to live around it myself,” Stack said. “They shouldn’t have to either. It’s getting to the point where we need to force this issue, get this off the ground.”
Iqbal said last year he remained committed to working with city officials on the property. Stack said that she expects action on a plan soon. Henry Ford Health Systems remained open to a medical or care facility, and earlier this month Stack met with Iqbal to determine his plans for selling, donating or developing the land.
Trenton’s other long-standing question regarding a large parcel in need of a future, the 276-acre Detroit Steel complex once operated as McClouth Steel, is not without potential buyers. Stack said there are current discussions for potentially kick-starting activity and jobs at the site.
“Some prospective people might want to purchase property there to do some production,” Stack said. “We’re waiting to see if that will be coming down the road.”
Progress will hopefully be seen on properties large and small in the coming year. Stack said that last year established a framework for economic development, with staff and management involved in the overall plan, aided last year when city planner Benjamin Tallerico came on board (for $1 a year) to help spark interest in an estimated 400-plus acres of vacant industrial and commercial property.
The city is promoting economic cooperatives designed for small businesses, and local business interest appears, as Stack said, on a bit of an upswing. The former Mike’s Tap Room pub on Jefferson was bought and the city awaits a site plan; McKee’s Pets on West Jefferson will soon host a music-and-arts shop; and Stack hopes to involve root beer kings A&W in revisiting their former West Jefferson site, among the company’s oldest drive-up-service diners.
Unlike previous years where progress meant maintaining staffing and service levels — a challenge still for many Downriver communities — Trenton begins 2013 without questions of budget deficits or potential layoffs. The city’s fire department will soon add six positions to its roster thanks to a federal grant, and the city does not expect to further deplete its delicate fund balance.
Stack said the signs of stabilization exist, and hopes to capitalize on them in the year ahead.
“We’re seeing the houses getting sold, and not as many foreclosed homes,” Stack said. Relationships with corporations in town are on track, City Hall is adhering to a budget, and the worst of the economic storm has likely passed.
“I strongly think that, in a couple of years, we’ll see better times ahead instead of what’s been going on recently,” Stack said. “We hope to see light at the end of the tunnel.”
For information on the State of the City address, contact city hall at 734-675-6500.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)