An upbeat tone after having survived many challenges permeated the atmosphere at this year’s State of the Community address, which brought elected officials and business leaders to the podium Wednesday at the Meadowbrook Country Club.
The address, which was organized by the Northville Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by St. Mary’s Hospital, was in stark contrast to last year’s address, which focused on looming fiscal issues, the challenging local economy, school layoffs, and consolidation of services.
Speaking at the event this year was Northville Township Supervisor Mark Abbo, who is retiring, Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox, and Northville Mayor Christopher Johnson and Northville Schools Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher. All spoke of positive developments realized through the efforts of their staffs and the community.
“We have partnerships in the community that have helped us a great deal,” said Abbo. “And in Northville Township, we’ve been able to make a transition. At one time, one-third of our land was institutional land, and we’ve been able to move away from that.”
Abbo, who has spent the last 12 years as supervisor, touted rising property values and new development as part of a successful year.
“Our SEV went up by 4.89 percent this year,” he said. “That’s a great development.”
Abbo also said the biggest development issues was the announcement that the University of Michigan would build and open a 100,000-square-foot ambulatory care center at 7 Mile and Haggerty roads.
Additionally, the city was able to approve a master plan for the 7 Mile Road property, which has been the bain of the township because of the wreck of the old hospital.
Abbo said there is one other project that has been flying under the radar, but could be immensely beneficial to the township.
“You’re not hearing much about it now, but the 5 Mile property will allow us to develop land west of Beck Road,” he said.
The land should be available after the sale of the land where the Robert Scott Prison sits, if approved by the state legislature. There is a provision in the bill that, if approved, would allow the township to purchase land for $1.
Northville has engaged in several projects that should enhance the downtown area for residents, especially those that like to walk, and spend time outside, said Mayor Christopher Johnson.
“We wanted to create a place that would be for people, not for cars,” he said.
One of the projects that has been on the table for much of the year is the streetscape project, which replaced sidewalks and created more walkable, attractive thoroughfares near Main and Center streets. The project also included new lighting, benches, and landscaping.
The project was made possible in part by a $590,000 Michigan Department of Transportation Grant, which covered much of the cost of the project.
Johnson also mentioned the Bennett Arboretum Trailway, which links trails for bikers, walkers and runners in the city with the township, creating a gateway for both of the communities.
“If you haven’t been on the trail, I advise you go there,” said Johnson.
Also, the city talked up the development of the former Atchinson building, which is on Main Street across the street from the city hall building. The facility, which was vacant for an extended period of time, is being redeveloped into a restaurant called Garage.
Northville Schools has faced several challenges over the past year, and since 2010, has made about $10 million in cost reductions.
Mary Kay Gallagher, still in her first year as the district’s superintendent, said that 460 kindergartners entered the district this year, and by the time they graduate in 2025, the city should be a place where they will want to stay and work. She said community support continues to be a big part of the district’s success.
“I want to thank the community for supporting the 1-mill sinking fund millage, and the non-homestead millage,” she said.
Additionally, the schools learned that there are 28 juniors that will qualify as merit scholar contenders when they’re seniors next year. Additionally, 16 seniors are competing for the same honor next year. The district continues to graduate 98 percent of its students.
Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox said the county has had significant challenges this year, mainly the unfolding severance scandal that rocked Wayne County and put Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano under the microscope.
She praised the city, township and school district for their financial management and commitment to transparency.
“I see such a contrast in how transparency is handled here (in Northville) than how it is in Wayne County,” she said.
Cox, who openly asked Ficano to resign when the scandal deepened, said she is pushing for a change to the Wayne County Charter that would empower the commission to remove the executive.
Additionally, she added that several road improvement projects will commence, including the much-complained-about Haggerty stretch between 6 and 7 miles roads, a portion of 7 Mile, and 7 mile near Rogers Street, to name a few.
Chamber members – most of whom are business people in the community – said they were impressed with how the city is balancing its challenges.
“We’ve noticed that there’s been a lot of development; there’s a building going in behind Meijer’s, which will mean increased traffic,” said Stacie Robinson, the branch manager of Citizens Bank. “The more business that comes in, the better it is for the community.”