February 20, 2013 - The Lake Orion DDA has an idea for the Village whose time may have finally come.
At the Feb. 12 DDA council meeting, executive director Suzanne Perrault gave a presentation on public parking in Lake Orion, and then revealed she has been approached by a local business owner about a possible property donation.
Perrault said the owners of the property at 29 Front St. (formerly Whisky's) have offered to donate the site if the DDA agrees to shoulder demolition and development costs.
The donation was not immediately accepted at the meeting; instead, the council voted to table the topic until the March 12 DDA council meeting.
If the donation is accepted, the Village stands to gain 35 contiguous downtown parking spots, Perrault said.
As Deputy County Executive Matt Gibb sees it, "part of the stifling of the growth of the Village as compared to places like Oxford and Rochester is the fact that there is a lack of presented, adequate parking for business owners."
"There are projects that have been limited in opening like the upstairs of Sagebrush, that have been tied to the perception of the parking issue," he surmised.
Kristy Kowatch, owner of Twice Blessed, agreed. "Please do it," she pleaded. "If you want to have a beautiful and vibrant downtown, there's no choice. It's an investment in the community."
"We do need parking," agreed Tonya Sallade, proprietor of Lucky's, "but we also need to make visitors aware of where parking is available in town."
Many spots next to Children's Park remain unoccupied, yet patrons may be unaware the option exists if they can't find a vacancy directly in front of their desired destination.
John Ranville, president of the DDA council, concurs with the perception that parking is needed in Orion, but advised the council against a hasty approval.
"I'm not against it, but just want to make sure they do all their research. There are other options, other sites throughout the village which [Perrault] pointed out at the meeting."
He noted patrons in other municipalities expect to walk a short distance. In Lake Orion, he points out, the "farthest parking spot from, say, Sagebrush is only a block and a half, two blocks at the very most and they're short blocks to begin with."
Convenience aside, Perrault estimated 29 Front St. brings in approximately $12,000 in tax revenue each year.
Ranville considers the loss of a building not a small thing, however. "You lose a tax base, and it's like cutting a tree down, you never get it back, it takes years and years."
Perrault projected the cost of developing the property into the anticipated 35 parking slots to be somewhere between $150,000 and $170,000.
"The cost is a little less than $5,000 per parking space, which is pretty low," Perrault said. As a comparison, she noted that parking spots can range from $20,000-$40, 000.
To pay for this new project, Perrault said the DDA currently has about $106,000 available in the budget. An emendation would be required to meet the associated costs. The DDA budget is subject to Village council approval.
However, borrowing from the future to pay for this newer project in favor of projects already budgeted and underway didn't seem a wise course to Ranville.
"We don't want to put all of our eggs in one basket," he said. Paying to raze the building and maintain the new lot would swallow up resources budgeted toward previously stated priorities. "It would set everything back a couple of years," he said.
What's more, Ranville said, "we've got money already invested in attorneys and engineers."
Perrault said there are about two dozen projects in the pipeline. Two of the larger projects are a fašade grant and Paint Creek connector trail. Ranville said infrastructure projects like the connector trail are valuable because of the commerce it brings from Rochester.
For Gibb, these are the hard choices a municipality must make. He admits the project will devour "a lot of the budget." However, he views this development as an "opportunity to say this is a priority in the strategy of remarketing the way that business looks at coming to and staying in Lake Orion."
These choices communicate the priorities of the residents, Gibb added. "You can make the choice between enhancing quality of life stuff like farmer's markets or you can say we're going to have a serious, serious move toward economic redevelopment of the Village."
In Gibb's view, "quality of life initiatives don't attract businesses to Lake Orion.
He doesn't advocate eliminating those less important priorities; instead, he advises delaying them since they don't have a direct impact on the ability to build additional commerce and economic activity.
The DDA council will vote on the donation at the next council meeting, scheduled for March 12.
In the meantime, the DDA will get help from Gibb's office. First the county will conduct a focused study on Lake Orion in order to provide data to support claims additional parking is needed and therefore the DDA should bear the burden of building it.
Gibb promised to control development costs by bringing a strategic bidding model to bear if and when the donation is accepted and demolition plans proceed.
Gibb said a strategic bidding model means asking Oakland County "who do you know? Who can bid on this? We recommend to the DDA when they go out to bid, here are some preferred vendors that we know have the ability to do this at a cost factor that's going to be beneficial to you."
Whatever the DDA chooses next month, Perrault said she was neutral on the matter, but noted, "we don't have this opportunity very often where someone is willing to partner with us and donate the property to us."
For his part, Ranville seemed to think this might be a welcome problem for Orion and portend good for Orion's future. "It's kinda nice knowing you do have a parking problem,"