Ypsilanti leaders have agreed to purchase a $3.7 million building to replace the struggling public service plaza
YPSILANTI, MI – Ypsilanti leaders voted to make one of the city’s largest buyouts in recent memory, spending $3.7 million in cash on replacing the city’s aging Department of Public Services plaza.
The decision came after some residents urged the Ypsilanti City Council to rein in the purchase during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, claiming consideration of the acquisition was not conducted transparently. Many said they had questions about the decision to eat large amounts of the city’s preserves.
The vote authorized the purchase of 599 S. Mansfield Street, a property located in a mall on the South Side, as the new headquarters for DPS. It passed 5-0, with Council Member Michelle King abstaining and Council Member Jennifer Simmons absent.
However, city leaders intend to hold the vote again during a special meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 9, at City Hall, 1 S. Huron Street. The meeting will also be broadcast via Zoom.
The department currently handles basic city tasks, such as snow removal, trash collection and street repairs from an old complex located at 14 W. Forest Ave.
There, a host of construction issues have piled up, threatening worker safety and DPS operations, according to its director, Bonnie Whistler. Officials evacuated a main area of one of the nineteenth-century buildings, with a plastic cover extended over the roof, amid fears that it would not withstand the winter weather.
They closed the entire square to the public in October.
The property’s wooden salt barn also requires a complete replacement, as the metal pieces holding its posts have rusted and cracks have formed in its foundations. Birds live in the walls of another building, and traffic control equipment is stored in garages without working doors or lights. Across the courtyard, city trucks emerge from garages too small to fit inside.
“There has been no investment in our infrastructure for many years. The can has been kicked,” Ypsilanti Mayor Nicole Brown said during Tuesday’s meeting.
“If we don’t move forward with making some decisions regarding how DPS will operate, there will be some severe service interruptions and some severe repercussions,” Councilman Evan Sweet said.
Before the vote, the City Council’s discussion of obtaining new department space took place exclusively in closed sessions, including on Oct. 17 and for two hours on Tuesday.
Officials canceled a special meeting on Oct. 30 where a vote was scheduled to be made on the purchase of another property, 580 S. Mansfield St. This was still the plan for the regular Tuesday meeting when the agenda was published, but was modified before the meeting switched to the 599 S. Mansfield location instead.
This process angered some residents, who asked to know the justification for the purchase and evaluate other options, while raising concerns about the expected budget deficit that the city faces in the coming years.
“It seems like this all happened in the dark,” Cheryl Farmer, former Ypsilanti mayor, said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We need comprehensive and transparent analysis, community dialogue and engagement, and it appears that this should not be a decision that should be rushed this evening,” said Jennifer Goulet, who once held city staff positions.
City leaders expressed appreciation for the concerns, but kept discussions behind closed doors for a reason, including to help protect the city’s position in contract negotiations on purchasing the building, Councilman Steve Wilcoxen said.
“It’s a hit and we all acknowledge that. That’s a big expense,” he said, registering some concerns that the property on South Mansfield Street sold for $2.6 million less than its current price just last year.
But “behind that are years of neglect,” Wilcoxon said, adding that previous city councils had skipped basic operating costs and left current city leaders to deal with the consequences.
Officials have considered several options, including rebuilding the 14. W. Forest Ave. buildings, leasing space and partnering with another agency, while also looking at purchasing multiple buildings, Wiesler said Tuesday.
Taking into account the costs of moving the department to another location, the environmental remediation needed at the current site and other concerns, the 599 S. Mansfield property is the most economical, she said.
In total, officials expect $7.5 million in costs associated with the purchase and move, according to a slide presented at the meeting.
Thursday’s meeting will include a public information session detailing the need to relocate DPS. This will be followed by a reconsideration of decisions allowing the purchase of the new property and an adjustment to its budget, according to the city notice.
Councilwoman Desiree Simons said city leaders realize there is fear about the “big item” of purchasing the building.
She added that the city has the ability to use some of its savings to address conditions in one of its most visible departments, which often receives accolades for its work from residents and will also be increasingly needed as climate change impacts the region. .
“We can do it with gum and duct tape, but that doesn’t mean it’s good and it doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Simons said.
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