Mall expected to be sold in March
By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – On a cold Saturday, Mayor Abdullah Hammoud and his directors stopped at Fairlane Town Center’s parking lot to share his vision of the mall as a midtown destination with the media.
His management team, some of whom are new to the city, were on a bus tour of the city with the newly elected mayor, in keeping with his high energy style of launching multiple initiatives during his first 90 days in office.
“For an administration to want to serve the city, you have to understand the city,” he said. “As somebody who was born and raised in this city, I thought that I would give them my experience growing up, and we are working our way from the west to the east to the south end.”
At Fairlane Town Center, which is expected to be sold to an as-yet unnamed buyer in March, Hammoud shared his enthusiasm for the mall’s future, which is in sharp contrast to the fate of many other malls in the country.
The mall, which opened in 1976, is the only enclosed shopping center in an 11-mile radius, with 125 stores and an 83 percent occupancy rate. It covers 110 acres, has more than half a million leasable square feet, and 8,400 parking spaces to accommodate visitors.
Hammoud said Fairlane Town Center represents Dearborn’s midtown.
“This can actually be the heartbeat of our city, the part that connects the west and the east,” he said.
Hammoud said that during the recession 10 years ago, Dearborn was less affected than other nearby cities because residents are loyal to the businesses and vendors in the city.
He said his vision for midtown Dearborn is for more than just economic development. He said it includes affordable housing, public health, the environment and sustainability, flood mitigation and parks and recreation.
“We can reimagine this space to convene all the developers in the area that are coming in,” Hammoud said. “We are hopeful that we can be the ones that can pitch the collective vision, for what we want to see out of the midtown for our city, that residents have been clamoring for.”
He said he wants to shatter the stereotypes that have been attached to Fairlane Town Center.
“This isn’t a mall that is going under,” Hammoud said. “This is actually a mall that I think has great opportunities ahead.”
The mayor said he envisions the sea of parking lots being converted to more green space, which will help alleviate some of the city’s ongoing flooding issues, and connects to hiking and biking trails near the Henry Ford estate.
“This is a unique midtown that connects Michigan Avenue to Ford Road, and can give way to connect west Dearborn to east Dearborn,” he said.
Hammoud said that during his first seven weeks in office, many developers have been expressing interest in acquiring land at Fairlane mall, as well as the building and structures surrounding it.
“What they are asking is, ‘What is the city’s vision for what this can become?’” he said. “And that is what spurred our initial idea of coming out here to imagine this space together, because it’s more than just Hammoud’s vision. It’s our directors’ vision, and it’s our community’s vision for the city, and so we are super excited about the opportunities that can be, and we are hopeful that we can be the conveners and make this more than just an idea, but actually work towards making it a reality.”
Hammoud said there has been no time frame established yet.
“What we are actually doing is working with our economic development team, our parks and rec team and all of our directors to come up with a concrete vision, that we can make a pitch to all of the developers in the area, and use the tools we have to encourage that level of development, to reimagine this midtown,” he said.
Hammoud said that American Rescue Plan Act dollars can help the city support new development.
He said he sees a midtown development as a bridge between the east and west parts of Dearborn.
Hammoud said to get developers on board, the city must have a strong vision on paper, so that when developers come in, the city is ready to have that conversation.
“There is proactive leadership at city hall,” he said. “We are no longer sitting on the sidelines, and we have our bulldog cap on, and we want to be the ones that drive the conversation.”
Hammoud said that in the past, developers decided what they were doing across the city, and there wasn’t always community benefit with that approach.
He said that if developers are seeking economic incentives and tools, then the city wants to see community benefit in those agreements.
“We’re flipping the script,” Hammoud said. “If developers want to operate here in the city of Dearborn, we want to make sure that we are partnering, and that there is an element of community benefit that is happening with each and every single project all throughout the city, because that is the way that we have to operate.”