BY MELANIE YOUNG
Considered by many to be a decision that affects the entire Downriver region, the Trenton City Council last month unanimously voted to decline the city’s opportunity to purchase the former McLouth Steel property.
The vote came after a closed session during the July 17 regular council meeting. Many council members seemed taken off guard by the request by Mayor Kyle Stack to go into closed session “to discuss property acquisition” and to get all council members “on the same page.”
It was revealed later that there was new information the council needed to discuss related to the McLouth Steel property. Earlier that day the city had received a letter from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, although the mayor declined to say what the letter contained as it was discussed in closed session.
The city had previously requested a “letter of comfort” from the state and federal environmental agencies, stating that if certain steps were taken, an agreement would be made on the level of immunity from lawsuit by those agencies. That letter was expected the week of July 17.
So, what’s next for the property now that the city has declined to purchase it? Per Michigan statutory laws, Wayne County now has the option to purchase the property for $3.3 million. From that sale, the city would recoup the $1.4 million in lost tax revenue. Currently, the county has four businesses that have submitted RFQ’s (request for quotations) for the property. City officials are hopeful they will be involved in the process going forward.
The original timeline for the foreclosure process gave the State of Michigan, then the City of Trenton, right of first refusal to purchase the property. Trenton’s initial deadline was July 5, but the city was given an extension until July 30. Wayne County is the next entity in line.
Originally, had Wayne County declined to purchase the property, it was scheduled to go up for auction on Sept. 1, for $3.9 million.
According to Amikka Smith, communications director for the Wayne County Treasurer’s office, that timeline has changed. “The auction will now be held sometime in October on a date yet to be determined.”
If no one purchases the property at that auction, another would be held and the property would be offered for an opening bid of $500.
The vote ended a long process for the city’s elected officials. On Wednesday, July 12, the city hosted a town hall meeting to allow citizens to hear updates on the process. The meeting began with the city’s attorney Wallace Long, who described the process as it related to the purchase of the property.
City Administrator Jim Wagner then spoke of the timeline and how much each taxing entity would pay if they purchased the property. He stated that if the city of Trenton purchased the property, it would forgo the $1.4 million owed to it in tax revenue.
Stack addressed the timeline that the city was under, stating that, “Statutory law only allows so much time to make a decision,” reiterating that this entire process from the time the property was foreclosed on in March has been guided by the State of Michigan’s statutory laws.
Wagner also addressed the possible future uses of the property. It is currently zoned as mixed use-not suitable for industrial. Wagner said greenspace is not financially viable and the site would most likely be used for industrial or logistics.
Council members had their opportunity to share their opinions on the matter. Most echoed councilman Howey’s concerns over liability.
“We’d all like to have some control over the site, but at what cost to our residents?” he said.
“The only way we can control is with zoning,” Councilwoman Timber Baun-Crooks added.
At the time, Mayor Stack said all members were against it until they received more info. Audience members were allowed comment and most were concerned about the environmental impact and the amount of money needed to fix it. Wagner explained why the city was taking so much time with the decision.
“I don’t want to see things like Riverside Hospital sitting there again with no control over them. We need to explore everything we can so that the council can make a decision based on all the available info.”
Although the city of Trenton has declined to purchase the property, officials are hopeful they will be participants in the purchase process.
“Hopefully we are working with Wayne County to help secure the right company to take over the property,” Stack said. The mayor also wanted to clear up two issues she felt were important to residents. “The property is owned by the county treasurer. The city never purchased it. It never left his hands.”
Earlier in the process, the city was approved for a loan from the Michigan Strategic Fund for $3.2 million that would have been used for the city’s costs, fees and expenses related to the purchase and environmental research of the property. Stack stated that the city will not be taking out the loan.
While the council chose not to purchase the property, many of its members and residents alike are concerned about who will ultimately purchase and control the property. Councilman Steven Rzeppa believes the city is still going to be involved in the process.
“Trenton is still going to have a seat at the table.”