Warren officials have awarded a nearly $4.4 million contract for construction of a secondary city hall that will feature a library, a police mini-station, meeting space and a new park.
The project – known as Warren Civic Center South — is noteworthy because of its location on the west side of Van Dyke Avenue, north of Nine Mile Road. For over a quarter-century, some residents in the southern half of the city have complained their area of town has been largely ignored when it comes to visible, municipal projects.
City officials hope the facility and a new park will spark private economic investment and eventually become an anchor leading to revitalization of that area.
City Councilman Robert Boccomino, who has resided in the southern end for 19 years, said it takes a municipal project to generate interest and attract new business.
“I’m very confident, because I’ve talked to businessmen and they told me that’s what they want,” he said.
Once the facility known as Warren Civic Center South is completed, he thinks existing businesses will want to spruce up their facilities or expand while new ones will want to move in. With the library and the park as a magnet, Boccomino and others envision new restaurants, coffee shops and entertainment, especially near Nine Mile and Van Dyke.
“I think it will be the catalyst,” he said.
Council members recently voted unanimously to award a $4.389 million construction contract to Dailey Company. The 10,500-square-foot building will be the new home of the Burnette Branch of the Warren Public Library, which will move from its current location. At the other end, a police mini-station will be open at times. While it won’t be heavily staffed, the public can stop in at any time to file a report there instead of driving to police headquarters on Civic Center Drive by the Warren City Hall, located north of 12 Mile Road, east of Van Dyke Avenue. Patrol officers can also stop there to write reports. Lockers and a dining area are expected to be included for officers.
A 600-square-foot area is included in the building if the council or other city boards or commissions want to meet there instead of at the Warren Community Center, located on Arden near Mound Road, south of 14 Mile Road.
A city park including amenities for special needs children is the other key component of the $5 million project. In addition to the nearly $4.4 million for construction costs, officials say approximately $600,000 will be allocated for furniture and other equipment.
The bulk of the funding — $2.5 million — will come from the library department. The Tax Increment Finance Authority board allocated $1.5 million, and the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority provided $1 million. Park maintenance will come from the Parks and Recreation Department, and expenses for the police mini-station are expected to come from the Police Department’s budget.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held a year ago. Initially, officials had expected construction to begin last spring. Now, the real construction is expected to commence this autumn, and officials hope the facility will be open to the public in approximately September 2019.
As part of the municipal project, direct access to Van Dyke from Republic Avenue, from west of Van Dyke, will be permanently closed.
Warren Mayor James Fouts has said residents of south Warren consider their neighborhoods the “forgotten area.” He is confident the new city hall will spur new development.
In 2009, Fouts proposed a similar facility to replace the Owen Jax Recreation Center on Nine Mile, east of Van Dyke. A majority of council members rejected the plan, skeptical that the use of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Neighborhood Stabilization Programs grants would fulfill the grants’ intended use to stabilize neighborhoods hit hard by the home foreclosure crisis. Before the council nixed the proposed $4.5 million “neighborhood resource center,” funding was to include almost $2.9 million in unused proceeds from the $75 million bond sale by the Warren Downtown Development Authority in 2004 that paid for construction of the current Warren City Hall and City Square Park.
The only other new city facility in southern Warren over the past couple decades was construction in 2016 of a new building for the Busch Branch of the Warren Public Library, on Ryan Road, north of Nine Mile.
A second phase of Civic Center South is scheduled to include construction of a new fire station. Construction of that facility is tentatively planned in 2020. That phase is expected to cost upward of $3 million although funding has not been determined yet.
“This is an exciting project,” Warren economic developer director Tom Bommarito said.
He hopes part of the economic spinoff will include private purchase of a former bank and at the former Louie’s Bar, where city officials are working with the TIFA board to potentially offer a grant to attract a buyer, possibly for a new restaurant. He said Tim Horton’s may re-open one of its shuttered restaurants.
“It’s a work in progress but we’re making progress,” Bommarito told council members. “This (civic center) will be a big piece of it.”