Fighting City Hall: Pontiac Office Landlord Wants to Reopen Phoenix Center

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A group of business owners in downtown Pontiac is fighting the city’s bid to tear down the Phoenix Center, a 2,500-space parking structure with a rooftop amphitheater that can accommodate up to 6,000 people. Last year, the owner of the attached Ottawa Towers office complex filed suit in Oakland County Circuit Court to prevent the $2-million demolition.

“I don’t understand why the city wants to tear down the Phoenix Center,” says Will Koski, building manager for the Ottawa Towers. “We have a great tenant in the State of Michigan Department of Child Protective Services, and the only way we could provide parking for their 350 employees was to operate part of the center ourselves in terms of powering the lights, repairing the lights, overall maintenance, power washing, and relighting the stretch of Orchard Lake Road that runs beneath the parking deck.”

Most recently, Judge Michael Warren, exasperated by the slow pace of negotiations between the two parties in arriving at a mutually-agreed upon outcome, ordered the sides to reach an agreement by Feb. 19. Koski says his company has already spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to maintain the Phoenix Center, which the city closed in late 2012.

“We’ve been telling the city Orchard Lake Road could be reopened right now, all that has to be done is to remove some snow,” Koski says. “We would like to take over the maintenance and operation of the entire Phoenix Center. It’s a great asset, and we hired the original engineer who designed it. He said the deck could last indefinitely with the proper maintenance.”

The Ottawa Towers and Phoenix Center were built in the 1970s as part of a master plan to draw more office and commercial users to the downtown district, but only two office towers, each offering 200,000 square feet of space, and the parking deck, were completed. “The towers are attached to the deck,” Koski says. “Without the parking, we are out of business. That’s why we’re suing the city for damages of $9 million if the deck is torn down.”

Pontiac Mayor Deidre Waterman and City Administrator Joseph Sobota could not be reached for comment. In 2012, then Pontiac emergency manager Lou Schimmel announced plans to tear down the center, adding the city could save upwards of $10 million in future repair work, maintenance, and insurance costs. But there was no money earmarked for the demolition.

Blair McGowan, owner of the neighboring Crofoot Ballroom, says up to a dozen major businesses, including his concert venue, stand to close if the deck is torn down. Lot 9, a surface lot of around 700 spaces that abuts the Phoenix Center, was sold by the city to a private developer. McGowan maintains future plans for Lot 9 call for commercial or residential uses.

“The city has no money to tear down the Phoenix Center, and yet they want it torn down, I don’t get that,” McGowan says. “They approved plans for the redevelopment of the Strand Theatre, and yet where will those patrons park? The best outcome is to sell the Phoenix Center to Ottawa Towers, they’ll maintain it, and they can then draw new tenants and new business, all of which adds to the city’s tax rolls.”

If the city demolishes the structure, McGowan says there’s no money for replacing the structure. “A new structure costs $25,000 per space, so you’re looking at around $60 million (to provide 2,500 parking space). Where exactly will that money be coming from? The city needs to look at the big picture.” 

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