By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. and seven panelists addressed the city’s highlights of 2015 and the vision for the future during the recent State of the City address.
The panel discussion is a new format for the city. Rebroadcasts of the address are available on CDTV — the city’s government access channel — and the city’s website, www.cityofdearborn.org. (See related story, Page X-A.)
The address was recorded at the Dearborn Administrative Center Feb. 24 with no public, officials or media in attendance due to the snow storm that same night.
O’Reilly chose the new format which including seven other panelists to speak about the city.
The panelists included President of the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce Jackie Lovejoy, Youth Commissioner Ghassan Ahmed, Vice President of Community and Corporate Engagement for Beaumont Health Judith McNeeley, Sustainability coordinator for the City of Dearborn Dave Norwood, Dearborn Public Schools Trustee Mary Petlichkoff, City Plan Commission Chariwoman Nancy Siwik, and Recreation and Parks Commission Chairman Jeff Stassen.
“I asked them to be part of this presentation because I have never been comfortable with the idea that the state of the city seemed to be in some ways a way to focus too much on me,” O’Reilly said. “The panelists up here are just a sampling of the talent and dedication that we are fortunate to have in Dearborn.”
Some of the 2015 accomplishments discussed were increasing the occupancy rates in the city’s two Michigan Avenue downtown areas, eliminating user-paid parking, creating new business authorities, restructuring of city departments, launching branding campaign for downtowns and increasing property maintenance efforts.
“More than 25,000 cases were opened last year for things like trash, weeds, litter, prohibited vehicles and improper outdoor storage. “That’s about 100 cases per day,” Petlichkoff said. “The inspectors first step is not to penalize but to educate.”
O’Reilly also listed replacing and repairing roads, water mains, sewers and sidewalks; adding splash pads to neighborhood parks; expanding library digital catalog; increasing a social media presence; launching Healthy Dearborn; and new animal shelter development.
“We’ve responded to 13 percent more calls to our fire department and still beat national standards for response times,” he said. “We have reduced serious crimes by 5.6 percent.”
O’Reilly also mentioned the newly laid plans for the construction of the new Veterans Park and War Memorial at the Henry Ford Centennial Library.
Last year, the city was awarded $8.4 million in grant money from country, state and federal levels and used $2.25 million in grant money to fund public safety initiatives.
The mayor stressed the importance of collaboration with other communities pointing out the city’s Operation Blue Light operation.
For the city, adding property value to the city is accomplished by selling vacant lots to homeowners who live next door to the unused land.
“We encourage people to build new homes or expand or modernize their homes,” Siwik said. “We do understand that some neighbors do not like changes on their block, but we also know new investment adds value to the surrounding neighborhoods.”
One of the biggest projects happening within the city is the Artspace City Hall Lofts which began accepting artists into the former city hall building in January.
“Ours is the first Artspace in Michigan, so we are breaking new ground,” McNeeley said. “Artspace will bring more visitors into the east downtown for exhibits, performances and art education.”
Lovejoy highlighted the increased occupancy rates in the downtown areas with restaurants and businesses.
“Our occupancy rates in west downtown have soared over the last year,” she said, “and we are expecting even more good news in 2016 with it rising to over 88 percent.”
Some of the few businesses and restaurants that opened in 2015 included Nar Bar, Stadium restaurant, Brome Burgers & Shakes, Paint and Pour and Dearborn Brewing.
For 2016, Hampton Inn, a medical office, a bakery and Ford’s Garage are all expected to make their grand openings.
Also looking toward the future of the city is becoming more environmental friendly.
“Dearborn is considered to be a leader regionally, at a state level, or at a national level,” Norwood said. “Dearborn has a seat at the table and is a leader in that effort.”
Some local environmental projects include using waste to create power, Adopt-a-Watt, renovating parking lots in east downtown, planting additional trees, commuting energy management for electric bills, residential curbside recycling and a solar panel project.
“The strength of our community is that we embrace each other as neighbors and friends and we welcome anyone who choses to be part of our Dearborn enterprise,” O’Reilly said. “We’re always willing to build positive relationships based on our shared goals and work together to create something lasting in our community.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])