By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE — For many years the annual State of the City address spoke in terms of hopes and expectations. The impact of the recent recession downturn hit metropolitan Detroit and Downriver particularly hard, and Mayor Joseph Kuspa said that annual predictions spoke of a brighter economy, “as a dream, not something right on the horizon.”
Heading into next month’s State of the City address, Kuspa said that last year’s projected “renaissance” continues with projects large and small.
“The forecast we made last year was accurate,” Kuspa said. “Most of it came to fruition.”
It wasn’t always easy, or pretty. The foundation for a redefined city included in 2012 a long, disruptive Fort Street reconstruction, balanced with a long-awaited demolition of the old Montgomery Ward store that sat vacant in a fading Southgate Shopping Center. Kuspa said the past two years have laid the groundwork for a revitalized business and development environment.
“The demolition was certainly something exceptional,” Kuspa said. “Once we got past that it was, “What could we do with the property?”
Among other plans, last month the city announced a $64,000 state grant that will go toward construction of a terraced ampitheater on the site at Eureka and Trenton roads. The Ward property — gifted to the city by owner Mickey Sissking —will be part of a public-use space, a destination for live music bordered by a revamped MJR Cinema, which this year will embark on a multi-million expansion.
Kuspa said that projects large and small combined in recent years to turn the pendulum back toward growth for the city, efforts that are beginning to show.
“As a city things came to fruition,” Kuspa said. “We’re going in the right direction and have seen stabilization of property values — a slight increase — going forward.”
Kuspa said that next month’s address will present more details on the city’s improved economic outlook, to include additional confirmed plans for the shopping center. In recent years city officials have had numerous success stories in obtaining grants — such as a state energy-efficient housing program that turned vacant homes into state-of-the-art affordable housing.
“We’re doing several things at one time to improve the city where we can and identify additional resources,” Kuspa said. “Going forward we’ll continue to invest in infrastructure.” Several key road projects — not as disruptive as Fort Street’s reconstruction — will further improve the city’s ability to attract new business. A range of franchises, independent outlets and larger ambitions to include last month’s opening of Hampton Inn next to I-75 between North Line and Allen roads have replaced a growing number of stagnant lots with thriving concerns.
Last year also saw the demolition of the former MESC building, now removed, which invited and has received interest from developers. Kuspa said each piece — families now living in once-empty homes, new businesses setting up shop on sites long vacant — contributes to the rebirth.
“They’re all building blocks toward a better community,” Kuspa said. The city had taken proactive steps when possible during the years of economic struggle. Administrators negotiated with unions, made slight reductions when possible, and avoided amassing a budget deficit as many Downriver cities had faced.
“We stayed in budget,” Kuspa said. “We had a balanced budget for the last several years as a result of dealing with a reduction in taxes. It’s the accumulation of that as we reinvent local government and provide services. Our real challenge is how to re-develop.”
Kuspa will announce how some of that challenge is being met at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the State of the City Address. The event will be held at Holiday Inn, 17201 North Line Road, For more information go to www.southgatemi.org.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])