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Leonard to recognize folks who helped acquire old mill

Leonard Village President Mike McDonald stands in front of the town's historic mill/ grain elevator on E. Elmwood, adjacent to the Polly Ann Trail. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
July 09, 2014 - Never let it be said that the Village of Leonard doesn't know how to show its appreciation or express its gratitude to those who give it a helping hand.

A brief ceremony will be held in the village at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, July 19 during the annual Strawberry Festival.

It's purpose is to recognize all the organizations and individuals who contributed funds and services to help Leonard acquire the old mill/grain elevator and the 0.28-acre parcel on which it sits, located on E. Elmwood, adjacent to the Polly Ann Trail.

Leonard is currently pursuing grant funding to preserve the structure, built in the late 19th century, and transform the site into a public park.

It's proposed to have a trail visitor center, permanent restrooms, drinking fountain, picnic area, bike racks and fix-it stations, a horse picket line, trail manager's office, storage for trail-related equipment and a small seasonal retail outlet to sell trail merchandise, water, snacks and small bicycle repair items.

The official title is the Leonard Mill Park.

"It is a landmark," explained village President Mike McDonald. "We think people will want to come and see it. It was the last working elevator in Oakland County before it was shut down. That was in 2005. It should be of great historical interest (and of help in) drawing people to the village. We hope people that come to visit will stay awhile, maybe spend some money in our local retail stores."

Aside from the old mill/grain elevator's "historical value," McDonald said the park plan is also part of the village's attempt to have a closer relationship with the 14.2-mile pedestrian trail that runs through Addison, Oxford and Orion townships.

"The village has adopted an attitude towards the Polly Ann Trail where we're trying develop linkage with it," he said.

McDonald said the group of people scheduled to be honored July 19 "stepped up" and "literally made it possible" for this historic structure to become a public asset.

The ceremony is quickly becoming a big deal as Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has tentatively accepted an invitation to attend the ceremony and serve as keynote speaker.

"I was kind of excited at the thought of L. Brooks coming to little Leonard," McDonald said. "I thought, 'Holy crap!' I hope he really does show up."

Using a mix of grant money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund ($18,384) and village funds ($6,099), Leonard was able to purchase the old structure.

"We officially took ownership of the mill on May 6," McDonald said.

But the village wouldn't have been able to acquire the property without a group of organizations and individuals who donated funds to help pay for almost $12,000 worth of environmental testing required by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality due to the presence of some coal residue in the ground.

Donors included Level One Bank ($1,650), ITC Holdings ($3,500), Oakland County Business Finance Corporation ($1,650) and the mill's former owners, Harold and Gerald Hoffman ($4,000).

Oakland County Economic Development and Community Affairs helped secure many of these donors to underwrite the environmental testing.

"The county economic development division, and the people there, were just fantastic in supporting us (and) getting this thing through," McDonald said. "Whenever it seemed like it was going to fall through, they'd show up with some good advice or sponsors."

In addition to donated funds, ASTI Environmental, the firm that conducted the testing, lowered its fees by $1,000.

"Actually, it was quite a bit more than that," said McDonald, noting the firm also waived fees and absorbed costs for extra work required by the state.

Phil Adkison, the village's attorney, is also being recognized for his contributions to the mill acquisition.

"All of our attorney fees were donated," McDonald said. "He saw the way this thing was going and he said we couldn't afford it if we had to pay him, so he very generously – I can't say enough about him – said, 'I'll take care of all the legal (work).'"

In order to preserve/renovate the mill/elevator and develop it into a public park, Leonard is currently seeking $300,000 in grant funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, plus $106,000, to use as matching funds, from the Michigan Department of Transportation/Southeast Michigan Council of Governments Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP).

McDonald indicated he doesn't expect to hear anything about the trust fund grant until around December.

He's already heard something about the TAP grant, but the news wasn't encouraging.

"We're not out of the running, but I've been advised that it doesn't look like we're going to get it," McDonald said. "I'm not sure (if) it's official yet or not. I can't say officially one way or the other."

If the village doesn't get the TAP grant, McDonald said other outside funding sources would be pursued in order to match the trust fund grant should it be awarded to Leonard.

"I haven't given up on (the possibility of finding) another source," he said. "We've even discussed creating a 501 (c)3, so that we could apply for privately-funded grants and opportunities. We're looking for supporters."

But if Leonard can't secure a source or sources willing to provide the necessary match, development of the Leonard Mill Park won't happen.

"If we don't have a match, we can't go for the (trust fund) grant," McDonald said. "We won't be able to accept it."

Although the village council was willing to expend municipal funds to acquire the old mill/grain elevator, McDonald said Leonard officials have committed to not spending any taxpayer money on the park's development.

Leonard's small budget, which is approximately $230,000, cannot afford to expend $106,000 on a project of this magnitude.

"Any real development of it will require a lot of capital," McDonald said. "We can't do it on our own, but we never expected to do it on our own. We always expected that we'd be applying for grants."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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