By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – Perhaps the key, bottom-line message in Mayor Rick Sollars’ State of the City address Thursday was that the critical numbers reflect – for the first time in years – a city on the rise.
“For the first time since 2011 Taylor is out of deficit and in the black,” Sollars said.
Evidence and examples of this resurgence were plentiful during the annual address, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Taylor at the Wayne County Community College District Downriver Campus. Overall, prospects for the year ahead indicate more to follow.
“That’s trending in the right direction,” Sollars said. “We’ve a long way to go, but we’re making good progress.”
Sollars reported the latest confirmation of improved municipal finances as heard last month from rating service Standard & Poor’s, which revised the city’s status as “positive,” an upgrade from its recent “stable” rating. That designation had been threatened in recent years when the city had posted a $2.3 million deficit, had laid off dozens of staff, shut down fire stations and seemed on the verge of financial emergency or state takeover.
Instead Sollars said in a speech titled “What a Difference a Year Makes,” the city recently posted a nearly $400,00 fund balance, and has settled employee contracts that included modest pay raises. The debt was eliminated ahead of the state-required 2016 deadline, and analysts said the improved conditions should continue.
Business interest in the city, Sollars said, went hand-in-hand with municipal solvency. The State of the City has been a story of rebirth, perhaps best symbolized by the loss of a longtime local treasure and popular destination, Gibraltar Trade Center, which instead sparked continued growth along the Eureka Road corridor with anchor store Menard’s set to revitalize the property.
Sollars said the headline tenant has generated interest and commitments from numerous chains that will populate the grounds.
Expansion seemed to be a constant when comparing the business climate from recent years to the outlook for 2015. Sollars listed dozens of retail openings, expansions and renovations that had taken place or been proposed in the past year.
About 120,000 square feet of retail space re-opened at Southland Mall, and throughout the city “name brands have been coming to Taylor,” Sollars said, with Sky Zone, Lumber Liquidator, Party City and others listed along with the city’s first Panera Bread outlet expected this year.
Beyond retail Sollars said hospitality opportunities would increase with Towne Place Suites expected to take over the former Taylor Tool site and open the city’s second hotel, and the Moose Lodge on Taylor was sold to Wayne Tree Manor, which plans a banquet center at that location.
Prospects for the city’s first population increase may be realized. Development, Sollars said, “had been at a standstill” when he took office little more than a year ago, but plans appeared to be moving forward for three new residential developments – Chelsea Park, Island Lakes and Charter Oaks – along with a senior complex for financially qualifying residents courtesy of Volunteers of America.
Overall Sollars said the annual report reflected, “hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars invested” in the city. Smaller businesses have expanded, he said, and firms such as Watson Engineering – which will add 50,000 square feet to its Racho Boulevard facility and add up to 100 new staffers – continue to demonstrate confidence that the city is poised for better days.
“Everything’s on the upswing,” Sollars said, a message of caution needed for progress to continue. At city hall, a series of employee contracts have been settled – some for the first time in years and including modest pay increases – and the threat of financial emergency or state takeover that has visited nearby towns seems to have been avoided.
“We can grow as revenues grow,” Sollars said. “We have a long way to go, and have to stay on course to avoid falling back into a negative situation.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)