Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman delivers the State of the City address focusing on “Triumphs, Challenges and Opportunities” at United Shore in Pontiac, Michigan on June 12, 2019. (Photo: Brandy Baker, Special to the Detroit News)
A decade after the state declared a financial emergency in the city, Pontiac is attracting more businesses, on the road to ridding blight and poised for growth, Mayor Deirdre Waterman said Wednesday.
“Families and new companies … are increasingly choosing to make their home in Pontiac,” the mayor told an audience during her State of the City address. “We are continuing to move Pontiac forward.”
Waterman’s presentation, themed “Triumphs, Challenges and Opportunities,” focused on economic and community developments in the county seat.
The mayor, who is serving her second term, told more than 400 attendees that she pursued an aggressive agenda that included revitalizing neighborhoods, restoring youth services, securing economic growth and creating more job opportunities.
She highlighted some of the most prominent achievements, including Pontiac last year reaching a resolution with Ottawa Towers over the use of the city-owned Phoenix Center parking structure in the business district.
The deal lifted “a black cloud hanging” over development in the Oakland County community and paved the way for the City Council to explore ways to offer attractions through the site, Waterman said.
“We want to become a destination venue again and the renovation of the Phoenix Center can be a catalyst for that,” she said to applause.
The mayor also touted entrepreneurial start-ups and new tech companies launching headquarters downtown as signs the city’s fortunes were changing. She cited Kevadiya Inc., a federal IT consulting firm, pursuing a million-dollar building renovation.
Meanwhile, officials this year announced Farmington Hills-based Erae USA plans to spend $17 million to outfit and lease a manufacturing facility in Pontiac. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is providing a $685,000 grant for the expected creation of 137 jobs. Erae, a subsidiary of AMS Co. Ltd., a Korean supplier of driveline systems, chassis and electronic systems, chose Pontiac over competing sites in Indiana and Ohio.
Her address was held at the Pontiac site for United Shore Financial Services, which has brought more than 2,500 employees to the city since relocating from its headquarters in Troy last year.
“This is a fantastic facility and we are glad United Shore chose Pontiac as their headquarters,” said Thomas Kimble, immediate past president for AARP Michigan and a liaison with an Oakland University/Pontiac Partnership.
Among other achievements during Waterman’s tenure, she said: construction is underway on the Village of Bloomfield, a mixed-use development that was dormant for nearly 10 years. The project is slated to net an estimated $250 million in investments as well as companies such as Aldi, Planet Fitness and a medical facility as well as housing.
So many businesses are opening or relocating to the city, Waterman joked that she planned on keeping her ribbon-cutting scissors sharpened “because I want more coming.”
Along with boosting the economic base of the city, Pontiac is pushing blight-removal efforts. Last fall, officials said a public-private partnership with the county and others was on track to end blight in the county seat this year. Waterman said a plan set after she took office in 2014 to make the city blight-free within a decade is ahead of schedule and could come to fruition this year.
“We’re ahead of the target,” she said.
The upbeat message comes amid a backdrop of a state-declared financial emergency in Pontiac in 2009. Over a four-year period, to restore fiscal stability, the state-appointed managers ordered massive layoffs of city workers, disbanded its police and fire departments as well as outsourced the duties, and sold off city-owned properties, including its water department and the Pontiac Silverdome.
The state restored power to its elected mayor and council in March 2016 after the city’s finances improved.
In 2017, the Michigan Department of Treasury said the city had been released from financial receivership and would immediately regain control of operations and finances.
The city’s finances have improved enough that it now has a $17 million surplus and earned a budget award from the Government Finance Officers Association, Waterman said.
“After decades and flight from our city, today we are rising because … the phoenix is in flight again,” the mayor said.
Some at the address on Wednesday attributed the progress to the mayor’s commitment to building relationships and pushing for change.
“What she does is she brings opportunity to this city,” said Gail Perry-Mason, an author and founder of Money Matters for Youth who has taught financial literacy in Pontiac.
Among Waterman’s supporters was Hettie Pinkard, who has lived in the city for more than 60 years. She has seen Pontiac’s decline but believes the worst days are behind it, thanks to the mayor.
“We’ve come a long way,” the retiree said. “She’s made great progress.”
Waterman mentioning the opening of the Pontiac Youth Recreational and Enrichment Center, as well as rising property values, encouraged longtime resident William Turner.
“Now it’s coming back up,” he said. “This city’s been dead.”
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