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December 26, 2013
CITY OF GROSSE POINTE — Many things changed during 2013 in the City of Grosse Pointe.

After the former Borders Books building sitting vacant three years, a buyer will renovate the property into a combination of medical offices and retail shops.

New zoning rules promote additional downtown development. The hometown hospital has expansion plans. The 9-year-old police dog died.

That and more during 2013:

January

The armed hold-up of a 14-year-old girl last September didn't buck a double-digit decease in crime, according to the public safety department annual report for 2012, released this month.

"We had a couple high-profile crimes in 2012," said Stephen Poloni, public safety director. "The perception may be among the public that crime is on the increase. However, perception is not reality in this case."

Crime reported in the city during 2012 decreased 15 percent overall, he said.

A state grant and discount loan nearly make $3.5 million worth of city-wide sewer repairs a financial wash.

The grant funds 90 percent of engineering costs, leaving the City a $13,000 bill.

A 2 percent, low-interest loan for $3,443,800 will be paid by sewer fees.

The city's 5-year financial outlook disputes the lovelorn's hope that opposites attract.

Revenues and expenses, which currently walk hand-in-hand on the general fund bar graph, are projected to go their separate ways at an increasing pace, according to City Manager Peter Dame.

The forecasted split peaks during fiscal year 2014-2015, in which expenses top revenues by nearly $600,000, then settle back to a relatively steady estrangement of $500,000 through 2018.

February

The Downtown Development Authority's new marketing role for the Village is intended to boost the entire central commercial district, not broker individual properties.

The DDA's expanded role assumes marketing duties of the Village Association, a volunteer organization.

Members of the 50-year-old association requested the DDA, established in 2008 to facilitate new construction projects, take over marketing.

Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe faces the architectural equivalent of dental work.

It's as though a cavity is being filled and a tooth capped.

An indentation in the hospital's south facade is being enclosed with a three-story addition. Also, the front entrance lobby is being expanded and outfitted with a 16-foot diameter wheelchair accessible revolving door.

Consolidation of public safety dispatch operations with Grosse Pointe Park, and thereafter the public safety department itself, are big-ticket solutions being considered as ways of countering a structural municipal deficit that has defied four years of cost cutting.

"We're faced with staggering legacy costs," said Councilman Andrew Turnbull.

Consolidating dispatch saves the city an estimated $100,000 per year, said Peter Dame, city manager.

Consolidating the public safety department with the Park could save an estimated $200,000 to $600,000 per year, he added.

Low water levels in Lake St. Clair will be countered by dredging a 400-foot section of the navigation channel to the municipal marina at Neff Park.

March

Free one-hour parking may become a drawing card of Village shopping.

"It's a great way to market our Village," said Peter Dame, city manager.

The council authorizes Dame to spend up to $10,000 for a consultant to determine if the municipal parking system can support one hour of free parking in off-street, city-owned gated lots.

The public safety dispatch center closes Sept. 1, according to a three-year agreement by a united city council to contract dispatch operations to Grosse Pointe Park.

All telephone calls to City public safety headquarters, emergency and otherwise, will be routed through the Park dispatch center.

The deal saves the City up to $100,000 per year, according to City representatives.

A cashless parking meter option, Parkmobile, is being installed throughout the city.

Parkmobile wins a city contract to tag parking meters for wireless payments.

April

A major player in the metro healthcare scene has dibbs on the former Borders Books building in the Village.

"St. John (Providence Health System) has taken an option to purchase the building with the intent of developing it for offices and other commercial uses," said Jim Bellanca Jr., representing the vacant building's owner.

Internationally-known urban retail planning consultant Robert Gibbs likes what he sees in the Village central shopping district.

"Most downtowns today just sell things we don't need," Gibbs tells an audience at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial. "You're an exception to that."

Gibbs, of Birmingham, speaks at the invitation of the Voice of the Village, a newly-formed group of downtown City of Grosse Pointe property owners and managers.

May

A divided city council denies a key element of St. John Providence Health System's $5.4 million proposal to establish medical offices in the former Borders Books building in the Village.

Most council members oppose St. John's plan because it reserves 1/3 less space fronting Kercheval for retail usage than required by zoning ordinances.

Increased property values coupled with cost savings result in a proposed balanced municipal budget for next fiscal year, 2013-14, beginning July 1.

The turnaround in property values generates $76,361 additional property tax revenue without raising the tax rate.

"We're not allowed to raise taxes," said Peter Dame, city manager. "We're at the Headlee limit."

The latest thing in public safety fashion is a body camera.

The public safety department is purchasing six cameras with the aid of a grant.

"Cameras would be worn by officers and record incidents that are outside the view of in-car cameras, thus reducing liability as well as providing evidence in prosecutions," said Stephen Poloni, public safety director.

June

The Downtown Development Authority hires a public relations consultant to promote the Village.

"Those blocks of Kercheval could use a little energy and a little verve, esthetically," said consultant Edward Nakfoor, of Birmingham.

An independent appraiser is retained regarding the disputed value of a bank building in the Village.

At issue is Flagstar Bank's petition to the Michigan Tax Tribunal to reduce the value of its two-story office on Kercheval from $2,326,000 to $500,000.

Council members seek a $209,000 state grant to cover one-time start-up costs of melding police and fire services with Grosse Pointe Park.

If the cities don't consolidate departments, they don't get the grant.

July

Amended zoning regulations of the central business district are approved minus a provision that requires property owners to divulge the name of retail tenants upon seeking a special use variance from rules requiring the front 60 percent of first-floor space to be dedicated to retail usage.

Reconstruction of municipal parking Lot 2, in the Village, begins.

Upon completion this fall, a gated system replaces the lot's parking meters.

A commercial trash compactor to be located in the Village has an odor shield to satisfy the snootiest of schozzes.

Every time it compacts, it sprays an odor neutralizer into the mix.

The compactor becomes operational when construction of municipal parking Lot 2 concludes after Labor Day.

Land off St. Clair south of Kercheval in the Village, for which Sunrise Assisted Living canceled plans to construct residences for senior citizens, is rezoned as a transition district intended for such things as a hotel.

Public service employees agree to cancel their open-ended retirement healthcare benefits.

Terms apply to current employees, except those within two years of retirement.

August

Another batch of 64-gallon, wheeled recycling carts is ordered for sale to residents for $61 each.

September

A zoning tweak reduces the mandated percentage of ground-floor retail space facing Kercheval in the Village's largest properties from 60 to 45 percent.

The change coincides with St. John Providence Health System's revised proposal to renovate the vacant Borders Books building into medical offices with the front 45 percent set aside for retail.

The Downtown Development Authority's public relations consultant opposes transforming the Borders Books building, vacant three years, into medical offices.

The consultant wants the property's owner and city to hold out for a large retail tenant or an owner willing to expand the property into mixed, retail and residential purposes.

A majority of council members approve new plans by St. John Providence Health System to buy the Borders Books building.

The 18,366-square-foot property's rear 55 percent will become medical offices.

The front 45 percent is reserved for up to three retail tenants.

Renovations are expected to start in 90 days and take about six months.

October

Registration begins for seasonal memberships in the municipal platform tennis program.

"Platform tennis becomes more popular every year," said Christopher Hardenbrook, City director of parks and recreation.

Police trace alleged shoplifters of a store in the Village to eastside Detroit.

During the arrest, a City officer shoots at the car of a suspect, accused of trying to run over the officer.

There are no injuries.

Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe receives municipal permission to expand onto the entire city block bordered by Cadieux, Jefferson, Notre Dame and St. Paul.

Construction will include a semi-underground parking deck along Notre Dame, a two-story outpatient services building off Cadieux and, possibly, a four-story inpatient building in the center of campus.

November

Combined dispatch begins.

Emergency 911 calls to the public safety department are routed automatically to the combined dispatch center in Grosse Pointe Park.

No surprises in the municipal election.

Incumbent Mayor Dale Scrace and council members Chris Walsh, Christopher Boettcher and Jean Weipert win against no opposition.

Raleigh the police dog, 9, is euthanized a few days after being diagnosed with cancer.

Members of the Grosse Pointe Foundation donate a new playscape to Neff Park.

The foundation is paying for the equipment and installation, which totals about $50,000, according to Peter Dame, city manager.

December

The little fire engine that can enters service next summer.

Classified as a mini-pumper, the truck matches the Class A insurance-rating standards of the full-sized, 34-year-old fire truck it is replacing, according to Stephen Poloni, City of Grosse Pointe public safety director.

Municipal leaders adopt a pack mentality to fund a replacement for Raleigh, the public safety K-9 that died last month due to illness.

"The cost needs to be fairly allocated among the communities that are using the resource," said City of Grosse Pointe Councilwoman Jean Weipert.

City Manager Peter Dame ends the year with thoughts of the city's AA+ bond rating dancing in his head.

"I am pleased we have the confidence of the rating agency, which upheld the very high rating the city established long ago in better economic times," Dame said.

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