Apr 24, 2023

Mount Clemens Commission considers ‘once in a lifetime’ downtown residential development

Mount Clemens Commission considers ‘once in a lifetime’ downtown residential development
Originally published on April 24, 2023, through Macomb Daily. 


A three-story, 39-unit building designed mostly for artists is being eyed as the next step to revitalizing downtown Mount Clemens.


The Mount Clemens City Commission last week had its first look at the initial building concept from Artspace Consulting, which specializes in live-work facilities focused on local artists and young families. They also learned results of a feasibility study.


Supporters say the development presents a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to inject new residents and foot traffic to the central business district. But potential problems exist in terms of the loss of a substantial chunk of spaces in a public parking lot and questions about financing.


Mayor Laura Kropp called the plan an “incredible opportunity.”

“I think that when you study cities that have had major revitalizations — Royal Oak, Ferndale, Detroit — they always start with the artist community that comes in and makes the city cool. Then other people come and gentrification happens, and the artists get priced out,” she said.

“We would love to provide a home for those artists to come into Mount Clemens,” the mayor continued. “We are the art city. It’s a natural fit. We want them to be part of the revitalization. We have already started the ball moving towards that.”


Artspace representatives and a local steering committee of downtown business owners, residents, and commissioners have selected a portion of the Roskopp parking lot on Macomb Place adjacent to Anton Art Center as the development’s home.


While the price is not yet known, officials say the multimillion-dollar cost would be paid for through a variety of tax abatements, grants, and federal low income housing tax credits through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.


What is it?

Established in 1979, Artspace is a national nonprofit real estate developer and consultant for the arts. Based in Minneapolis, the company has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. It has 58 projects in 35 cities in 23 states plus D.C.It works with local governments to build affordable housing for creative types and their families. The mixed-use, arts-centric concept will help strengthen the cultural sector of Mount Clemens and push revitalization efforts for the downtown, officials said.


Another Artspace is being eyed for Detroit, according to Wendy Holmes, a senior vice president for the nonprofit. More than 500 people participated in the Mount Clemens community survey — a larger response than that of the Motor City. “In the few years we’ve been in Macomb County, we’ve seen some amazing progress taking place in your downtown,” Holmes said.


According to the feasibility study, the Mount Clemens building would contain a retail section and gallery on the first floor along with a leasing office, plaza, and an outdoor play structure for children The second and third levels would be filled with residential studios and apartments, shared working spaces, and a roof deck. The living spaces would range from a 725-square-foot one bedroom apartment to a 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom facility.


The best-known Artspace project in the Detroit area is the City Hall Artspace in Dearborn. Officials in that Wayne County community converted former automatic data processing building on Michigan Avenue into a 53-unit development that contains an annex of 20,000 square feet of commercial space that, when completed, could hold business incubators and work studios or office space for nonprofits.


Other locations considered

Other potential locations included the St. Joe’s Hospital Historic Bath House and Mount Clemens schools on Cass Avenue. The study found the bath house would present a “beautiful historic building with reuse potential,” but at 80,000 square feet, it was deemed to large and far away from the downtown area. Plus, Artspace said the existing floor plan would be too expensive to convert to housing.


For the school complex on Cass, although schools can be easily adapted to housing, Artspace said the layout is inefficient, too far from downtown and it being adjacent to an active school presents construction challenges.


This isn’t the first time city officials considered something extra for the parking lot. Construction of a 14,000-square-foot, Detroit Eastern Market-style shed was proposed for the same spot in 2020. It would have housed Farmers Market events but also would showcase other functions such cooking demonstrations and exhibits, but failed to materialize.


Artspace officials said the Macomb Place site creates a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to build much-need residential units, space for other businesses and synergy with the Art Center. “The main community goal from the study was downtown revitalization,” said Homes, the Artspace senior vice president.  “Having the proximity to the Anton Art Center will make this the best possibility.”


Long known as the entertainment capital of Macomb County, Mount Clemens has a long and rich history as the art, music, cultural, and dining facilities. Artspace reps say their project ties into city officials’ desire to attract more young families and artsy artists who are predicted to reside there. Along with another development bringing additional residents to the city, Mount Clemens is experiencing a mini building boom, with several new businesses including a coffee shop, hair salon, bakery, and others to the county seat.


At the same time, the structure would provide an additional residential base to help foster foot traffic to patronize businesses and restaurants in the downtown, city leaders say. Greg Handberg, a senior vice president for Artspace, said if Mount Clemens gets the go-ahead to begin, construction would commence in 2024 with an 18-month timeframe. Plans call for an opening in 2026. “We want to get going on this,” Handberg said.


Potential issues

The facility would be owned by a for-profit limited partnership with a committee set up to oversee fair housing laws to select who will be allowed to live there. Instead of paying property taxes, Artspace would apply for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) or a municipal agreement where the company would pay a fee for police, fire and other municipal services. Some commissioners, such as Laura Fournier, said she was led to believe the facility would be a tax-paying entity. “I feel like I got hit in the face tonight,” Fournier said the night of the presentation “I was told this would be a taxable venture.” Mayor Kropp said the PILOT plan had always been on the table.


Another issue could be the loss of revenue-producing spaces in the public parking lot. Over the years, the lot has also provided a gathering space for festivals and special events in addition to daily parking needs. The feasibility study projects the loss of about 100 of 234 spaces at Roskopp, or a 47% loss.


Supporters say they believe the strategic planning during the design phase can minimize parking impact. The next step is for the city commissioners to finalize their choice for the design at an upcoming meeting and sign a site control agreement. Officials would submit their housing funding applications in October.



Read the article at: macombdaily.com/2023/04/24/mount-clemens-commission-considers-once-in-a-lifetime-downtown-residential-development/