On Monday night, the seven-member Royal Oak Commission unanimously approved a plan to gift $5.5 million in public funds to Lansing-based Boji Group and its partners to build a private office tower on a city-owned parking lot along Third Street, just east of Main Street.
The project, which has drawn the ire of nearby business and property owners who contend through a series of lawsuits filed in Oakland County Circuit Court that the city entered into bad faith backroom deals and provided sweetheart giveaways to the development group, was awarded without competitive bids.
The 11 restaurant, business, and property owners fighting the city fear that the city’s plan to turn over city-owned parking for the development will only exacerbate Royal Oak’s chronic parking shortage and likely cripple, if not close, their enterprises that have long depended on the lots for customer parking.
They also say converting the three parking lots to the civic center development will also endanger the city’s historic Farmer’s Market.
As a result, the group filed two lawsuits in Oakland County Circuit Court challenging the deal the city entered into with a politically connected Lansing-based developer, Ron Boji, principal of the Boji Group.
Boji is also the lead partner in Central Park Development, the entity the city selected without a public bid to build a seven-story Class A office building that will anchor the new civic center project. Also involved with Boji in Central Park is Surnow Co. in Birmingham.
Todd Fenton, Royal Oak’s economic development manager, says the next step for the city will be to close out its bond financing, either later this year or early next year, so work can proceed on a $100-million plan to build the so-called Central Park development on several city-owned blocks. It is not clear if the city has the bonding capacity to complete the financing.
The project includes a new city hall, a new police department, a central park, and other municipal needs. “All told, the project will utilize $63 million in public financing and $37 million in private financing,” says Fenton.
Lawyers representing the property owners in their case against the city say they will continue to pursue the lawsuits in Oakland County Circuit Court.