Birmingham voters on August 6 are being asked to approve a bond proposal in the amount of up to $57.4 million to secure financing for replacement of the N. Old Woodward parking structure and an extension of Bates Street. It's the first phase of the Woodward Bates project, which potentially will add a public plaza, a bridge to Booth Park, a five-story building fronting Old Woodward to become an RH (Restoration Hardware) Gallery store with rooftop restaurant, a residential and commercial building on Willits Street, and a residential building along the rear of the four-acre parcel as part of a public-private partnership.
There is no cost to residents if the bonds are approved – i.e. no taxes – but state law requires all municipalities to obtain approval of its residents when going for a general obligation bond because the full faith and credit of the community is being pledged. The bonds will be paid off with revenues from the city's parking system, the same system followed successfully in the past by the city with all other parking structures. Birmingham has a AAA rating from both Standard & Poor's and Moody's, and over 90 percent of its bonding capacity available, a strong financial position thanks to decades of solid management.
The idea for the Woodward Bates project has been germinating for 20 years since urban designer Andres Duany first proposed it as part of Birmingham's 2016 Plan, which has been faithfully followed since its inception. At a recent conceptual meeting for the city's new city-wide master plan, which Duany and his company (DPZ) are doing, he reaffirmed his commitment to the concept and to this project, which is being developed by Woodward Bates Partners, LLC, comprising Victor Saroki of Saroki Architecture in Birmingham; Paul Robertson of Robertson Brothers Homes in Bloomfield Hills; John Rakolta Jr., of Walbridge in Detroit, and Ron Boji of The Boji Group in Lansing.
The city's primary goal is to help alleviate a significant parking shortage in Birmingham. The old, decaying structure has outlived its lifespan and we don't need to educate readers about the problem with parking, which has been under study by officials and outside experts for several years. Currently, between the N. Old Woodward structure and adjacent surface lot, there are 745 parking spaces. The new structure will provide the city with 1,157 spaces. Concerns that all of the new spaces will be consumed by tenants in the new buildings are unfounded, as one building is all residential, which will have its own parking on site, and another is at least partially residential and will also provide self-contained parking.
Birmingham is proactively working on parking mitigation plans for current users of the N. Old Woodward garage for the approximate two years of demolition and reconstruction. There will be additional valets, shuttle services with established companies to off-site locations and a number of other options now being refined.
This is a vote on a necessary parking bond but the opportunity to breathe life into an underutilized parcel is icing on the cake, as city-owned land will be leased to the development group on a long-term basis, generating new property taxes. Equally important, Birmingham – often ranked nationally as one of the more successful small towns – must continue to maintain its health and standing in the region which can be easily lost to neighboring communities that have started to mimic the model created here.
Voters should be aware that the other finalist who had a proposal under consideration but was not chosen has gone to court. Watch out for a possible campaign against the ballot issue from acolytes of this person and others dispensing inaccurate information to befuddle residents in hopes of defeating this project.
Birmingham is putting the bond question on the August ballot, rather than waiting for November's general election, because parking is at a crisis state, and time and cost increases are critical concerns. The development group is contributing to defray election costs – not unusual in these situations. Construction, design and engineering must be locked in immediately in order to begin – and finish – as soon as possible. This is an exciting time for the city with the proposal for a new parking deck and surrounding multi-use development. Voters must say YES to help Birmingham move forward.