Last in a four-part series: Downtown’s impact and future
By Beth Garcia
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK— Royal Oak is a city made to grow, said City Manager Tom Hoover.
From its inception, Royal Oak has shown a remarkable growth that has continued over the years. According to Hoover, this expansion is attributed to the city’s continuous developmental improvements.
“In every city I’ve seen there are always pockets of distress. What attracted me to Royal Oak was that those pockets of distress are nonexistent,” he said.
To create a nearly blight-less city, Royal Oak must constantly add new developments, said Tim Thwing, city planning director. According to the Planning Department, the city is currently undergoing two-dozen such projects, many centered downtown.
The city’s master plan, a guideline for future city growth, was revised in 1999, and now outlines Royal Oak’s physical development needs.
“Many of our current developments were designed to fall under these changes and revisions,” Thwing said. These types of construction projects have played a pivotal role in creating Royal Oak’s downtown.
Thwing said all current developments must meet the objectives outlined by the master plan. According to the plan, the city needs to add to its existing downtown residential, retail and office spaces— creating a more business-friendly city.
With the recent condominium and loft boom, Royal Oak has added hundreds of downtown living spaces in developments such as SkyLoft MarketSquare and Main North Lofts. These downtown residential spaces have given people access to the busy city, according to Sharlan Douglas, SkyLoft MarketSquare spokesperson.
“Everyone wants the ability to live in a downtown like this,” Douglas said about the city’s real estate market. “People want to be in downtown Royal Oak and that won’t change.”
According to city administrators, this demand has also brought additional businesses to Royal Oak. Many of the city’s mixed-use developments house retail and office spaces, as well as residential units.
“We are attempting to maintain a balance of diversity downtown,” Thwing said. “The things we are looking to do in the future are to create even more office space and possibly a hotel.”
Hoover said downtown developers understand the need for office space. The Joseph Freed Main North project, located at Main Street and 11 Mile Road, recently changed designs for its second building to account for additional office units.
The city is also working to redevelopment some “less than desirable” properties on the 11 Mile strip. In recent years, several motels and blighted homes have been demolished to make way for these new office and retail structures.
However, Hoover said striking a balance between city growth and public needs is something to constantly work toward. With downtown growth, pressure builds on the city’s public services and parking system.
The Police Department recently called for additional personnel to face increasing calls and safety runs. According to Police Chief Ted Quisenberry, the city has seen an increase in crime, but the understaffed Police Department cannot keep up with the demand. During this year’s budget consideration, the department asked for additional police officers, some to be paid through the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
The DDA, a downtown economic organization, has also amplified its effort to aid with city service demands and parking shortages. Earlier this year, the DDA paid for an angle parking pilot test on Washington Avenue, which created 100 parking spaces for the high-traffic street. If successful, the city will discuss future angle parking options.
According to Thwing, who serves as the DDA executive director, the group is also studying the possibility of creating additional parking structures to ease parking congestion. Despite these concerns, Mayor Jim Ellison asks residents to understand the city’s growing process.
“We will need to prepare ourselves to deal with these issues,” he said. “Many cities have these ongoing challenges, but I would rather be faced with these challenges then be faced with the challenge of an empty downtown.”
A bright future
According to city officials, Royal Oak will continue to nurture these new developments so they can evolve into assets for the entire community. Although it may be hard to project the financial effect these developments will have, Thwing said additional residents and employees downtown will likely increase revenue for local businesses and restaurants.
Ellison sees these changes positively impacting the city.
“I think we are going to continue to see people coming in and making a commitment to this city. People are interested in coming to Royal Oak because we have a good, solid residential life and a great nightlife,” he said. “I hope those who live here enjoy it and accept the positive changes the city is making.”
Hoover said the city’s transformation is inevitable, but necessary in keeping up with the demands of businesses, visitors and residents.
“Many people might remember days when downtowns were different, smaller. Those days are gone. Not just here, but all across the country. However, it’s making way for a new, revitalized type of downtown— a downtown like Royal Oak’s.”
You can reach Beth Garcia at email@example.com
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