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The City of Oak Park has evolved tremendously since City Manager, Erik Tungate, took office in 2012. “The City government operation has been fully modernized, and there is a new spirit among our residents and business owners. There is also a greater awareness for the role our community plays in the greater Metropolitan Detroit area,” Tungate explained. Much of this is due to his view that “You can’t cut your way out of a bad situation. You have to grow your way out,” a quote referenced in last year’s State of the City Address. Tungate is a proponent of sustainable growth.

Tungate explained, “For a city that is almost entirely built-out like Oak Park here in the inner ring suburbs of a major city like Detroit, there are only so many ways you can find new sources of revenue and maintain vibrancy. In local government, we have to make sure we are as fiscally responsible with our taxpayer’s hard-earned tax dollars as possible while staying focused on investing in quality of life amenities, attracting new development, and seeking strategic partnerships in our region in addition to finding cost savings. There is no question a proactive approach like this has proven to be more successful than simply cutting city expenditures and expecting the market to come to us.”

The theme of Oak Park’s 2017 State of the City Address was “Bridging the Past, Present and Future.” Tungate offered some insight. “At the address, we unveiled our bridge overpass project on the overpass at I-696 and Coolidge. We wanted to tie in all of the things we’ve been doing with that, since it is an infrastructure that most people in the State of Michigan will know us by once it’s installed.” He said over the course of the next year and looking even further ahead, “I want the City of Oak Park to be able to maintain its fiscally sound financial practices, and I would like to see us moving in the direction of even more walkability.”

Tungate is hopeful that the 2018 State of the City Address will bring even more exciting news. “We may be able to unveil some great new projects during our 2018 State of the City Address. In any event, when these projects are ready for prime time, we will be releasing information to promote the positive impact they will have on our growing community. I can safely say we are actively pursuing multiple mixed-use developments. In fact, this is one of our prime goals for 2018.”

As far as other goals for the city, “We are pursuing new housing developments through our economic development arm as well as investing in our infrastructure to build the kind of quality of life amenities that attract new residents from other areas. While it may seem counter-intuitive given how communities have dealt with attracting new development and residents in the past, we strongly believe that our investments will pay off versus the traditional mindset of giving tax incentives only,” Tungate explained. “This is a fairly new approach for Oak Park and there is no doubt we’ve seen this approach work in communities like Detroit, Ferndale, and Birmingham, who have invested heavily in creating one-of-a-kind places where people want to live and work.”

Tungate said his favorite thing about Oak Park, in general, is its residents and business owners. “I’ve worked in many other communities throughout my career and there is no question we have one of the most supportive groups of residents and business owners anywhere. Whether it’s Public Safety or economic development, they are always there for us and ready to provide a helping hand. It’s amazing to witness each and every instance. When you combine that with the amazing and talented team we have at the City, it is something truly special.”

Tungate said residents should know, “We are ready to lead and are not waiting for things to happen to us. Rather, we are shaping the future for ourselves and making things happen. Our city government is setting new standards and aggressively pursuing excellence in every way.”

Story by Mary Meldrum
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Marian McLellan, Mayor of the City of Oak Park since 2011, is part of an enthusiastic municipal team that is focused on creating a vibrant and progressive future for Oak Park.

Two big strides that the City made that contributed to the progress, according to Mayor McClellan, have been establishing an Economic Development Department and jump-starting the City’s communications department. New infrastructure projects, business development, affordable housing options, clear and upbeat City messaging and exciting activities have all strengthened the quality of life that Oak Park offers. And all of this is turning heads.

The housing market is robust and gaining momentum, with market trends showing a 23 per cent increase in median home sales over last year. The commercial real estate market is following this trend. With many properties available at a good value, businesses are shopping the selection.

“Our population is going up and we have multi-family housing moving in. Oak Park is still the last good bargain for wonderfully built homes,” says McClellan. “We see more and more young people deciding to make Oak Park their home. I see retail getting renovated. And, as we finish the renovation on the Nine Mile Redesign project, we’ll attract more and that will bring people from other cities in.”

One other piece of big news that will give Oak Park an economic boost: after 60 dry years, licensed Oak Park restaurants can now sell beer, wine and mixed drinks. Under the Michigan Liquor Control Commission guidelines, a liquor license can be issued to one business for every 1,500 residents. This gives Oak Park the ability to issue approximately 20 licenses. Only two licenses have been issued out of the 20, with a third in consideration at the time of this writing. This will catch the attention of restaurant chains that previously would not consider Oak Park as a viable location for their business. Liquor licenses uncap potential in Oak Park and will bring in more jobs, tax dollars, more traffic and revenue from residents inside and outside the City.

Mayor Marian McClellan says, “This allows family restaurants to serve beer, wine and mixed drinks with meals, and shows promise in attracting the type of commerce that can spur economic development within our city while serving the citizens who would love to patronize businesses close to home.”

The economic profile of Oak Park has a great foundation with sidewalks on all the roads, LED street lights, a mature tree canopy, and three public school districts in the city–Ferndale, Berkley and Oak Park schools. Additionally, the housing stock is beautiful, solid mid-century modern brick homes that are in high demand.

“Oak Park has always maintained infrastructure,” Mayor McClellan describes. “We have the best city services in the area. Our Public Works employees take a lot of pride in what they do. There is a lot of good will in the city. Police officers do triple-duty in Oak Park; the same officer is police, fire and medical first-response.”

One noteworthy thing that separates Oak Park from many other communities in the area is their very stable diverse population. There is a lot of attention paid and energy put into supporting and promoting its valuable diversity. This is reflected in their events as well as the private Montessori and Jewish schools located in the city. There is also an accredited Rabbinical college where people all over the world come to study.

Economic development is on a breakneck pace and gaining steam. People are waking up to the City’s blooming potential, its great location and the value of the City’s real estate.

Mayor McClellan is excited when she envisions the city’s future: “I see new energy and excitement. There will be businesses right up to the sidewalk – not behind a parking lot. There will be many storefronts that are mixed-use construction with a place to eat, a place to live, a place to shop and a place to play,” envisions McClellan. “They will have two and three stories, all within walking and biking distance. There will be boulevards, green spaces and parks.”

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Taking a meditation class, learning to use a 3D printer, and sewing on a button aren’t things you would typically think of doing in a library. But, as the needs of a community grow, so do the available resources. Oak Park Library is a perfect example of this transformation.

No longer known just for stacks of books, the Library has evolved in the 60 years since its opening in 1958, and Director Brandon Bowman has been crucial in navigating the transition since his start in 2014.

“Basically, libraries in the 21st Century are becoming community hubs. It’s not just print materials anymore,” he says. “They are still going to be a place for the books, but we are kind of reinventing ourselves to become something better. It’s technology, programs and community meeting centers – libraries are encompassing all these things.”

One of the best examples of the changing landscape of Oak Park Library is their programming. A variety of programs are available to teach new skills, highlight a business or even just discuss an interesting topic. Programs are free at the Library, although there are some charges for services.

“The neat one I really like is our program, which is basically teaching things that don’t necessarily get taught in school but are very valuable skills to have. Like, cooking without a stove and not a lot of money; Sewing on a button and hemming your pants. These are some of those classes,” Bowman says.

Other programs include learning basic computer skills, joining book club activities, attending movie nights and visiting with guest speakers. On March 21 an Oak Park Public Safety Officer conducted a presentation on crime scene investigations. “It’s having this community knowledge and passing on knowledge, not in a book but in person,” Bowman says.

Aside from new programming, libraries have always been a place of resources. As technology becomes more and more of an essential part of everyday life, the Library works to ensure they always have technology available to patrons. “When people don’t have access to the Internet or the fast speeds of access that we have, they come up here and use our computers. We just added ten new computers last year to meet that need, so that’s huge for us,” Bowman explains.

It’s not even necessary to come to the Library to get access to their offerings anymore. Through digital loaning programs like OverDrive and Zinio, members can view online books, audiobooks and magazines to their phones, tablets and computers. The Library is even making efforts to bring its resources out to homebound members of the community and to students in school settings. They’ve started a book club in collaboration with Ferndale, Huntington Woods and Berkley public libraries.

“We are not confined to our building anymore, we’re going out,” Bowman says. “With our new operating system coming in May, we are going to be able to use tablets to do mobile checkouts so we can take a cart full of books out on the road. Getting out in the community and being more visible is something people don’t realize the Library is going to be doing, even within the next six months.”

With all the new offerings and developing changes you might think that the Oak Park Library has a large team on hand or that they use a ton of tax dollars for their growth. In reality the majority of their effort is accomplished with a small but dedicated staff, grant applications and the Friends of the Oak Park Library (see next page), a nonprofit organization that offers funds through volunteer efforts.

“We are ironically one of the bigger libraries in the area – Huntington Woods, Berkley and Ferndale are all smaller communities than us, so we actually have the largest library – but we have the least amount of staff and the smallest budget,” Bowman says. “What we do offer is a lot of innovation, and our staff is phenomenal.”

Some of the grants the Oak Park Library has received include the LSTA grant through the Library of Michigan, which they used to purchase 10 iPads. They also received the Ezra Jack Keats grant; and the Detroit Book and Author Society Grant.

“Another grant we just got was the Harwood Institute grant. We took a three-day seminar provided by the Library of Michigan that taught us to go out and ask the questions, obtain input and better meet the needs of our community,” Bowman says. “That’s what we want to do over the next couple years; we want to fine-tune our model of getting the input back to us, and fine-tune our communication out to the community.”

Their efforts seem to be paying off with circulation and usage numbers showing an increase over last year. In 2017, 103,592 items were circulated, almost six per cent higher than 2016; 23,000 reference questions were answered; and 3,000 visitors attended programs. Bowman hopes to see these numbers continue to grow and has no plans of slowing down efforts to improve the Oak Park Library.

“Consistently, our statistics are going up. I think that’s because more and more people are becoming aware of what we do. I would love to see those continue to get higher and get more people involved,” he says.

The Library’s 60th Birthday Anniversary that is coming in June presents a wonderful opportunity. “We want to use the birthday party as the catalyst to say, ‘We’ve come to this point and now we’re going to kick it into high speed.’ And go and do all these things – adding more online stuff, more program offerings,” Bowman says. “Look at how we can meet the needs of our community better.”

According to Bowman, the most important thing the Library can do is make sure it’s a valuable resource for the community and that they are indeed meeting the needs of Oak Park. He says he can’t think of a better community to put the work in for.

“I cannot say enough good things about Oak Park!” he exclaims “There has never been a community where I’ve gone in and been so welcome as I have when I came here. I think all the staff agree: We go above and beyond because we feel the people deserve that. They are such good people and the community is such a nice place that we want to give, and make this the place they envision.”

And, he wants to make it clear that the things people request don’t have to fit in the normal definition of what a traditional library has been. If it will better the community they are willing to work to make it happen.

“We are currently out in Oak Park, asking what community members aspire for the city. They are invited to tell us anything and we will tailor our mission to what they are asking for. It is a more open-ended question,” Bowman says. “With the community that we have, we need to have a good, strong library. We can draw a lot of people to Oak Park by using the Library as that showcase by saying this is what we can do and we are taking these steps to get there.”

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand

One of the most anticipated additions to the City of Oak Park in 2018 will be the revitalization of the WWJ Transmitter building into a restaurant. Why the hype? The American comfort-food-style restaurant tentatively named 8MK will be the ninth venture for restaurant group Union Joints – joining The Clarkston Union, The Union Woodshop and Vinsetta Garage, among other eateries throughout Metro Detroit.

The art deco structure, located east of Coolidge Hwy. on 8 Mile Rd., has occupied the lot since 1936 when the Scripps family built the transmitter building as a full-service radio station for WWJ-AM (950). Designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn, the building contains a lot of art and Detroit history, which Union Joints plans to preserve.

“Maintaining the original design and character of the building was extremely important to the City,” says Kimberly Marrone, Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Oak Park. “With past experience on projects with this developer, we knew we were leaving the building in good hands with Union Joints.”

The company is almost as famous for their repurposing of historic buildings as they are for their Union mac and cheese. Several of their existing restaurants are based out of unique locations, like turning an old automotive shop into Vinsetta Garage in Berkley and revitalizing a volunteer fire station into Fenton Fire Hall.

“Part of our purpose is repurposing. We’re drawn to buildings that have always served one purpose and are destined to serve another,” Union Joints co-owner Curt Catallo said at Oak Park’s State of the City address in February of 2016, when the project was announced. Ann Stevenson, wife of Catallo and co-owner/head designer for Union Joints, will work with Von Staden Architects on the design of 8MK.

“Our approach is to really just simply…let it be. We’re working hard to honor the building by not introducing a drastic change. It’s such a grandly handsome space with such a commanding presence—one which doesn’t require a tremendous amount of adjustment to its footprint,” Stevenson said. “The architect on this project, Tamas Von Staden, has a really wonderful way of working with the building and not against it.”

Construction will begin this summer on the 5,228 square-foot building that has been vacant since WWJ shut their doors in 1995, but planning has been in the works since 2014 when the City of Oak Park decided to attempt to purchase the building.

“We started working on this project in the Fall of 2014 when we tried to envision what could be done to the long vacant building. We began working with the property owner to see if they would sell the building to the City. We came to an agreement that they would,” Marrone says. “In the meantime, we reached out to Ron Campbell, Principal Planner and Preservation Architect for Oakland County’s Economic Development and Community Affairs Department, to see if he had any ideas or leads. As it turns out, he worked with Ann and Curt before on their other restaurant projects and set a meeting for them to meet with us on site.”

Plans for expansion on the five-acre lot include an addition of a 5,103 square-foot space for a kitchen. The restaurant will have approximately 140 seats, two outdoor spaces, and a large parking lot with a 160-car capacity.

“The restaurant is creating a destination restaurant in our community that will draw people far-and-wide to visit Oak Park,” Marrone says. “It gives us the opportunity to showcase what a great community we are and hopefully see some additional economic development activities because of it.”

The Union Joints team is just as excited as the City to highlight the great community of Oak Park, and has benefited from the involvement of the economic development team.

“The City of Oak Park has a dynamic vision for their future and we are so honored that they’ve entrusted us with its gem. Happily for us, they have a keen understanding of how bogged down and unnecessarily complicated a project like this can be, and they’ve duly paved the way to make everything smoother and more efficient,” Stevenson says. “A warmer, more accommodating group than Oak Park does not exist. It’s been a joy.”

Story by Sara E. Teller

FedEx Ground, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp., recently opened a 304 thousand square foot distribution center in Oak Park, as part of a larger, nationwide expansion plan. The facility took about 18 months to build. The primary purpose for expanding was to accommodate a growing need for FedEx Ground services, which has doubled in volume over the past ten years. The new site offered a boost to Oak Park’s commerce and career opportunities for its residents.

FedEx is a leader in cost-effective package ground shipping, offering service to businesses and residential customers throughout the U.S. and Canada. “All shipments move via trucks across the country to and from a network of 590 facilities,” explained David Westrick of the FedEx Ground Media Relations team. Westrick explained the strategic process that went into selecting the perfect location for the center and why the site of the former Detroit Artillery Armory was eventually chosen.

“As we always do for projects of this size, we conducted an exhaustive search for the right location. The site [of the former Detroit Artillery Armory] was chosen because of its ease of access to major highways, proximity to customers’ distribution centers and a strong local community workforce for recruiting employees,” Westrick said. “The new facility is part of a nationwide network expansion to boost daily package volume capacity and further enhance the speed and service capabilities of the FedEx Ground network. Since 2005, the company has opened 15 new hubs featuring advanced material-handling systems, and expanded or relocated more than 500 local facilities.”

Keyon Laws is the senior manager of the Oak Park FedEx Ground distribution center, which covers 54 of the former Artillery site’s 100 acres. Laws loves the warm and welcoming façade of Oak Park. He said, “The Oak Park community has been exceptionally welcoming to us. I have become involved with the Tri-Community Coalition, an organization that provides preventative substance abuse programs for at-risk teens. One of the reasons FedEx is one of the world’s most admired companies is that we are encouraged to give back to the communities where we work and live. I do it and I encourage all of our employees to do the same.”

The Oak Park location opened with 235 employees, and leadership continues to add positions as demand for FedEx service grows. “FedEx is proud to be recognized as one of the world’s most admired companies, and we take seriously our commitment to be a safe and responsible neighbor. Our operations will create jobs for local citizens, many of whom will benefit from our company’s promote-from-within philosophy, and additional benefits in terms of financial investment, volunteerism and other community support,” Westrick explained. “Consistently ranked among the world’s most admired and trusted employers, FedEx inspires its more than 400,000 team members to remain ‘absolutely, positively’ focused on safety, the highest ethical and professional standards and the needs of their customers and communities.”

He added, “We are frequently hiring, but just coming off our busiest time of the year we do not have many positions open at this time.” There are, however, a few open opportunities in various departments for interested candidates.

For more information, interested parties can visit the company’s site at
www.fedex.com. For career opportunities, job seekers should navigate to careers.fedex.com.

 

 

By Mary Meldrum

The brain-child of Oak Park resident Doug Craig, the nonprofit organization Fathers Being Involved, was launched in Pepper Elementary in September of 2015. Craig’s previous involvement with a fatherhood organization in Detroit at the Children’s Center led him to recognize that there was a missing fatherhood component, when he enrolled his son in kindergarten in Oak Park. Doug Craig asked Principal Emanuel Haley if he knew of any structured fatherhood initiatives in Oak Park. Haley’s reaction conveyed that Craig’s timing
was very good.

“Mr. Craig, just last night I had five mothers who have children with discipline issues who approached me for help. I can’t do this by myself,” said Haley. “Yes, I need your support.” That was all Craig needed, and he fired up a plan to connect people with purpose. “I work in divine purpose, and every time I work with this drive it works out perfectly in the right moment,” shared Craig.

DOUG CRAIG EVOLVED FROM a marketing director in the music industry to connect fathers with their children. He does this by connecting them with the Oak Park schools and within the community. Fathers Being Involved (FBI for short) has attracted approximately 280 fathers since its inception. Their mission is to create stronger fathers, stronger families, and stronger communities.

Fathers Being Involved is partnered with schools to help create a safer and more positive overall school environment. They also look to expose students to positive images and actions of men. They do this by encouraging fathers to play a more active role in their child’s education. They also help fathers find ways to support the efforts of teachers.

Craig serves as the Executive Director and co-founder of the FBI organization, and acts as the outreach spokesperson. He also serves as co-chair of the Wayne County System of Care Community Outreach where they reach out to various cultures. Craig sees the fatherhood piece in need of support and reinforcement in every culture in Detroit.

Craig gives big praise to the City of Oak Park –and in particular, Mayor Marian McClellan – and Mr. Haley of Pepper Elementary for the spirit and the early insight to ignite a fatherhood organization that supports and promotes its members. Because of the success of the FBI program in Oak Park, Craig reports that they are initiating a pilot program with Detroit Public Schools, as well as a couple of charter schools.

Oak Park is the heart and center of this operation; every-thing for the FBI program is birthed out of the city. In conjunction with the FBI initiatives, Craig is looking into having Oak Park host a fatherhood festival this coming Summer.

ONE OF THE GREAT SUCCESSES for Fathers Being Involved program is an event called the “Morning Roll & Go.” Men are stationed outside Pepper Elementary school in the morning, opening doors for women and children. Church Street, next to the school, was a congested raceway in the morning and afternoon. The fathers help with the traffic flow on Church Street. Fathers take the lead role in demonstrating how to be gentlemen.

They model good behavior, organize, and keep things moving along. Their presence calms the chaos and puts extra adult eyes and ears amongst the children adding a layer of security in the school drop off-process.

Fathers in the Morning Roll & Go interact with the kids. They ask about and encourage kids to achieve grades and complete homework; often stepping in to be the “community father” for all the children. They genuinely invest in the children and show them how to be little ladies and gentlemen.

Fathers Being Involved also get involved with the discipline of the troublemakers and encourage all the children to go forth in their day with upbeat attitude and self-esteem. Craig himself had conversations with one parent about vulgar rap music playing in their car that set their children up for disrespectful behavior and failure. He was so successful in explaining how rap lyrics create a bad attitude in children that the father not only changed the music choice, he also joined the FBI.

THE BOTTOM LINE FOR Fathers Being Involved is creating a prominent place for fathers in their children’s lives where they are seen and valued. Craig has frequently observed that men will see something and talk about something, but few men will do anything about it. He says that once a man is respected in a space, he feels like he is making a difference and becomes a leader in that space.

“We have to condition these children to respect themselves, respect adults, and to respect their community so that five years down the road when they are in high school they will be disciplined, and prayerfully, more academically accomplished,” proposes Craig.

Fathers Being Involved also encourages fathers to be attentive to their health and be a role model for their children. FBI is working on a monthly feature where a father talks about his career to inspire the kids. They are also working on a program to have fathers come in and read to the children.

The Michigan Fatherhood Alliance has asked Doug Craig to be part of their restructuring. His initiatives have grown from one elementary school to the whole Oak Park Public School system. He is now being invited to carry his programs and events through to other schools in other cities.

Craig credits the City of Oak Park for the organic growth of the FBI organization. He cites the public response, the neighborhoods, and the inclusive spirit of the people for his successful fatherhood initiative.

Story by Sara E. Teller

The Oak Park Public Safety Department is a busy place to be. Its Director, Steve Cooper, and his team are cross-trained as police officers, fire fighters, and medical first responders. The Department was the first in the state to combine these services, and Cooper said the structure works really well.

Cooper was selected for the Police Officer Association of Michigan’s 2016 Award, which was issued that May. “I was nominated by my staff. We have so many great men and women. To be nominated by individuals you work with on a daily basis, to know they think highly enough of you to submit you for this, is extremely humbling.” he said. Director Cooper has a plaque on his wall, but jokes, “I really can’t get any mileage off of that anymore. You always have to stay focused and humble.”

Cooper has been with the Department for 28 years, and said public safety officers have been cross-trained for as long as he can remember. “It’s been that way since 1954. Everyone in the Department completes police academy training, training with the fire department, and additional medical first response training. We have individuals looking to join our team that come in already police-certifiable, too, and we just go from there,” he explained.

Once training is complete, public safety officers start their days in police uniform, carrying additional gear and tools with them so they can easily transition roles if needed. “They’ll ride around on patrol with a duffle bag full of fire gear, an extinguisher, and a medical box,” Cooper explained. “If needed, they’ll change right there in the street.”

He said the department always has stand-by officers at the station, as well. “Our stand-by officers are there to process prisoners and handle walk-in complaints. If there’s a fire emergency, we stop what we’re doing and put prisoners in lock-down so officers can jump in a fire truck and respond. We also partner with neighboring departments like Beverly Hills, Berkley, and Huntington Woods, and will call in off-duty staff if we need to.”

To determine whether officers are ready to hit the road, they undergo what’s called a “shadow phase.” Cooper explained, “In this phase, you ride around with a senior officer who is in civilian clothes and handle all the calls. You’re given feedback, and this determines if you’re ready.”

OAK PARK’S PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT has many community policing initiatives that really make it stand out. The Department recently started a canine unit and took on Canine Officer Mase. “We found Mase at Vohne Liche Kennels in Indiana. They house dogs that undergo special training in their six-week courses. They join bomb squads and police departments, and really are a valuable tool,” Cooper said. “He’s been doing extremely well, just a really great job, and he has grown leaps and bounds since day one.” Mase is named after Oak Park’s fallen officer Mason Samborski.

Every day, Mase is out in the field responding to calls with Officer Mike Hodakoski who, after an intense interview process, was selected to serve as Mase’s handler. “We sent out correspondence to our staff, then conducted an extensive interview process with everyone who showed interest, including home interviews and oral boards. We brought in master-handlers who had canines. It takes a lot of time and commitment to work with Mase. Training is conducted once a week, which needs to be logged and the handler needs to do different activities with him. This really becomes everything you do.”

He said it takes a special kind of person to understand Mase’s role with the Department. “The canine is a tool used for many different things, and socialization is part of it as well. We need to make sure he interacts with the public. Now that Officer Hodakoski has had a chance to bond with Mase, we’ll be able to bring him to schools and conduct demonstrations to students. It’s important for people to realize Mase is not just an at-tack dog. He follows directions and commands very well, and can go from chasing down a bad guy to being completely docile.”

THE DEPARTMENT ALSO LAUNCHED AN ICE CREAM TRUCK INITIATIVE last summer in an effort to build upon its relationship with the Oak Park community and to make the first interaction with police a pleasant one. “One of my detectives had approached me with the thought that this would be a great way to engage with the community. I like to say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make it a positive one,” Cooper said. “The truck goes to events like end-of-the-year school celebrations and block parties. It’s not just for the children either. While it’s a great tool for the youth, it’s a great tool for adults, too. We take turns riding up and down the street, sharing free ice cream.”

Oak Park’s Department of Public Works donated the van that’s used, and the Public Safety Department solicited the help of local sponsors to decorate it and get it ready for the road. Prairie Farms donates ice cream every week. The truck runs from the last day of school through Labor Day weekend. “It’s a nice conversation piece,” Cooper said. “People were a bit shocked at first. Then, they started asking when the truck was coming to their neighborhood.”

The Department also has a Community Resource Officer, Devon Benson, who wears many hats. Benson interacts with all three public school systems Oak Park is responsible for, including Oak Park, Berkley and Ferndale, and is the City’s liaison for block clubs, making public appearances and demonstrations at community and city functions.

“Officer Benson helps neighborhoods set up block clubs. He gets them up and going,” Cooper explained. “He attends all meetings and events for the clubs, including summer block parties, and provides updates at these meetings. Mase attended one of these. They are a forum to solve problems and exchange ideas.”

As far as working with the schools, “Oak Park handles student programs for three districts and Benson hosts various programs, such as meet-and-greets and stranger-danger demonstrations,” Cooper said. “He also works with the private schools of Oak Park’s Jewish community, as well as local nursery schools and preschools.”
When not in meetings or at schools, Officer Benson manages Oak Park’s 15 crossing guards, mediates neighborhood complaints and issues, and handles vehicle fleet changeovers. He is a highly visible member of the Public Safety Department.

OAK PARK PERIODICALLY OFFERS AN INTERACTIVE OAK PARK PUBLIC SAFETY CITIZENS ACADEMY and Junior Citizens Academy to the community. These classes are designed for those who have an interest in learning about law enforcement, fire safety, evidence processing, and medical first response. They spend time with various members of the Public Safety team learning things like how to process fingerprints,
how to pick up subjects for a police line-up, how to dress like a firefighter, how police are trained to respond to dangerous situations, and what a firefighter does when responding to a scene to help contain the fire and get people out of harm’s way.

“Detective Robert Cook approached me with the idea,” Cooper said. “We never had a Citizen’s Academy before, and he thought it would be helpful to invite the community to see what goes on behind the curtain, so to speak. We use a firearms training simulator, which is interactive. Actors on screen are given demands. Some obey, some don’t, and we react accordingly.”

The Academy offers a great way for residents to gain a better understanding of what officers face in the field. “They see things on the news and wonder why an officer responded a certain way, but don’t realize we only have a split second to react. You can go into a gas station for a Slurpie, and in the blink of an eye, a robbery is in progress,” Cooper explained. “We lay out all of the equipment and ask residents to try it on. Just our police vests and gun belts are very heavy and can be exhausting to wear for hours on end. They can also operate fire trucks, squirt water from the trucks, and explore the jaws-of-life. Our evidence technicians and special response team direct particular segments, and participants are shown patrol and traffic operations, the detective’s bureau, criminal procedures, forensics, the 9-1-1 dispatch area. This year they’ll be shown a real homicide case and go through how it was responded to. It’s interactive in every way.”

Classes are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis with roughly 25 people per class. Details are posted on social media and on the City’s web site. They include instructions regarding how interested residents can enroll. For more information, contact Detective Robert Koch at (248) 691-7514.

“We did a pilot program with Oak Park High School students,” Cooper said of the Junior Citizen’s Academy. “We basically covered the same concepts, but tweaked them a bit to appeal to 16- to 18-year-olds. The programs have been a huge success. They really help us to build a good relationship with the community. It’s very rewarding.” The next round of the Oak Park Public Safety’s Citizens Academy will be held every Wednesday in May 2018 from 6:00 to 9:00 P.M. Those interested in enrolling should contact Detective Koch at (248) 691-7514.

For more information not he Public Safety Department, including information regarding any of the department’s initiatives and events, or how to register for upcoming classes, please visit www.oakparkmi.gov/departments/public_safety

By Mary Meldrum

Get ready for a brand-new Nine Mile! One of Oak Park’s major thoroughfares is about to undergo a major makeover.

The Nine Mile Redesign project was borne from the leadership change and a paradigm shift in the Oak Park City government’s focus that began in 2011, following an economic recession that almost bankrupted
the City. One big change came in 2014 when the City hired Kimberly Marrone, Economic Development &
Communications Director. Marrone explained the objectives and the progress of Oak Park’s Nine Mile Redesign project:

“My role in the City is for economic development, so we want to attract new businesses and retain the businesses we currently have in the city as well as help them grow and expand,” says Marrone. She is part of an Oak Park government leadership that has implemented service-oriented and pro-growth policies. These policies are gaining momentum – funding and creating an impact for the city’s future.

In 2014, a Strategic Economic Development Plan was adopted by the Oak Park City Council. The plan outlined action steps to assist in sparking additional economic development to Oak Park. Marrone discusses the growing evidence that providing places to walk and bicycle is a successful strategy for maintaining and restoring economic vitality. Indeed, there is solid research that supports the connection between pedestrian-friendly environments and economic viability.

Major firms around the country are beginning to loudly advocate for pedestrian, bike and transit-friendly development patterns. And they are voting for these changes with their walking boots on, relocating to city centers that are a better fit for their business, their ideals, and for their employees. Booming business centers like Atlanta and the Silicon Valley are showing how an over-dependence on the car can stall economic development. Businesses are increasingly concerned with lengthy commutes, gridlock, lack of transportation choices, air pollution, and the overall decline in quality of life that can make recruiting and retaining skilled workers difficult.

According to the 1997 Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, the number and location of open space/parks/recreation ranks high among factors used by small businesses in choosing a new business location. According to a 1998 analysis by ERE Yarmouth and Real Estate Research Corporation, real estate values over the next 25 years will rise fastest in “smart communities” that incorporate a pedestrian and bike-friendly configuration.

Road Diet
A study conducted for the City in 2015 with grant money showed it was feasible to redesign Nine Mile Road with a so-called “street diet.” The road will be reduced from five to three lanes, and the City will create linear parks, additional parking, bike lanes and streetscape amenities, a known formula to spur economic development.

“Businesses want to know if they can be successful here in Oak Park. They want to locate into a community that people are attracted to live in,” says Marrone. Oak Park and surrounding communities have seen a steady demand for homes and an uptick in median home prices over the past several years, making Oak Park an attractive place for businesses to settle in and grow.

Reducing traffic noise, traffic speeds, and vehicle-generated air pollution will increase property values. Adding green space, parks and public gathering places are multipliers in the property value equation. One study found that a five-to-ten mile-per-hour reduction in traffic speeds increased adjacent residential property values by roughly 20 per cent.

“We applied, jointly with Ferndale, for the grant from MDOT last spring and received notice in September of 2017 that they would partially fund the project. The total project cost is roughly $1.4 million. We received a grant award from SEMCOG and from MDOT in the amount of $983,826. This would require a 30 per cent match from the cities,” shares Marrone.

In 2018, The City of Oak Park will finalize road plans for Nine Mile, solicit bids this Spring. The City will add bike lanes and redesign the parking starting in late Spring or early Summer. The majority of the work is repainting of lines with minimal actual road construction.

Nine Mile Road was developed before I-696 was finished, and now carries much less traffic as it once did. In fact, the car count is roughly 17,000 cars per day now, making it a “tired” street with too many lanes. People drive past businesses on Nine Mile without noticing them. A road diet would slow the traffic and improve safety, allowing businesses to enjoy a spark of additional success, as well as fill vacant storefronts.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a push to move away from downtown areas, like Detroit. That movement has recently reversed, and there is a shift to embrace downtown density again in most communities. Oak Park’s Nine Mile Redesign project is quickly getting traction to promote a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly downtown area by addressing traffic issues, greenway development, and density.

Pocket Parks
Oak Park residents were interested in creating space where people could gather. As part of the Nine Mile Redesign project, a park was tested with the Sherman Summer Pop-Up Park in 2017. The City closed about 100 feet of Sherman Street.

In June, and put in tables, chairs, games, activities and programming. Sometimes they held scheduled musical entertainment, exercise classes, art and STEAM programs from the Oak Park Library and Recreation Department. Sherman Street residents were asked for input and invited to help create the space. In feedback following the pop-up park, 83 per cent of survey responses said they were in favor of the permanent park. The City applied for, and received, a grant from Oakland County.

“We went to great lengths to take into consideration the wishes of the community and to ensure that the needs of the residents were being met,” said City Manager Erik Tungate.

For the Nine Mile Redesign, the engineering firm suggested closing three streets at Nine Mile Road to create pocket parks. The City decided to close only two, Sherman and Seneca.

When people on Seneca were approached, most were happy about it. Of those with reservations, they expressed worry that emergency vehicle access would be impeded to homes and businesses; that school buses might not be able to travel the street; and questions on whether the park could invite crime to the area. Not one item went missing from the temporary pop-up park; creating more of a crowd typically creates less crime. The Public Safety Department reported that emergency vehicle and bus access was not impeded, and noise and vandalism was not an issue.

Bringing people together has long been known to produce economic value. Population density creates and increases social capital and economic opportunity. Social capital has value in fellowship, shared information and common goals; it thrives in communities that provide platforms and places for people to come together to shop and share their knowledge and information, while collaborating and socializing. Social capital allows people to become invested in the outcome of their neighborhoods, and economic capital to flourish.

“When talking to new potential businesses about locating in Oak Park, they become very excited about the vision and plans we have, specifically for the Nine Mile Redesign Project,” says Marrone.

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand

If you’re an Oak Park business owner – or aspiring to be – and you don’t know Kimberly Marrone, it’s time you should. As the Director of Economic

Development & Communications, she works to provide the tools businesses need to thrive and to promote Oak Park as a sustainable community.

“We work with new and current business owners from inception through development to meet business timelines, provide market research data, site selection, and site plan process. We provide the best customer service from beginning to end,” Marrone says. “We help connect business owners and entrepreneurs to resources and incentives to help their business startup, grow and expand.”

Oftentimes, these resources are free. There are opportunities on which businesses are missing out. As Economic Development & Communications Director, Marrone also oversees the Zoning Board of Appeals, Brownfield Authority, Corridor Improvement Authority, the Economic Development Authority, and Planning Commission for the City of Oak Park – where she is focused on creating a better business market.

“New this year, we will be adding all licensed businesses to an online database on our City web site, connect them to resources that are available, counsel businesses when needed, provide invitations to business seminars, and publish bi-monthly newsletters,” Marrone says.

Not only does she help businesses, she works with residents, property owners and surrounding communities to make sure that Oak Park continues to succeed. This includes following the City’s Strategic Development Plan and finding the best way to implement key initiatives and build a stronger tax base for the city.
Since 2014, she has led the Economic Development team in improving the economic outlook for the city of Oak Park. Marrone and her team have been instrumental in several recent projects totaling over $65 million in development since 2014 – including the FedEx Ground distribution center, the largest development deal in the city’s history. Oak Park also became a One Stop Ready Community through Oakland County’s program, and are working toward completion of Redevelopment Ready Certification through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

A Michigan native and graduate of Oakland University, Marrone previously worked as Executive Director of both Imlay City’s Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority. She has a background in local government and the private sector, including real estate. For her work, Marrone received the Rotarian of the Year Award in 2012 and the City’s prestigious Employee of the Year Award in 2015. She’s also been instrumental in the City being awarded the eCities lab Best Practices Community honor in 2015 (Marrone also received this award for Imlay City in 2012 and 2013); the Five and Four Star eCities Top Performing Community Award; and the Main Street Oakland County Vision Award in 2016.

Marrone is a member of the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce, International Council of Shopping Centers, Eight Mile Boulevard Association Board, Michigan Economic Development Association Board, and other organizations that are beneficial to the economic development of Oak Park.

2018 plans are already looking bright, with a variety of projects in the works. The much-anticipated 8MK restaurant rehabilitation of the historic WWJ building will include Oak Park’s first banquet space. The Jefferson Oaks mixed-income housing development offering 60 housing units will open in the Spring, and the 9 Mile Redesign Project will also begin this Spring. A portion of 11 Mile Road was recently rezoned from light industrial to mixed used. This new zoning allows for a variety of uses in one building.

Business and residents interested in taking advantage of the resources available through Oak Park’s Economic Development & Communications Department can reach out to 248-691-7404.

Story by Mary Meldrum
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

In 2014, Congregation T’chiyah welcomed Rabbi Alana Alpert from California to Oak Park, Michigan. Her arrival initiated a new direction for the congregation as she began a dual position, serving both as Rabbi and as a community organizer with Detroit Jews for Justice.

Rabbi Alpert arrived prepared for the challenge. She graduated from UC Santa Cruz where she studied resistance and social movements and learned about faith-based community organization. She had already en-gaged in leadership around feminism, Israel/Palestine, GLBTIQ rights, and prison reform. She attended rabbinical school to prepare for Jewish leadership, and she also spent three years in Israel and speaks Hebrew fluently.

Congregation T’chiyah was founded in Detroit in 1977, and they were “lay led” for most of their existence. About five years ago they decided they wanted a rabbi and that they wanted to focus on social justice work. But they didn’t need a full-time rabbi. While there was good work happening on the community relations and social service level by the local Jewish community, they felt that there was room for more meaningful work with racial and economic justice. The congregation set about looking for a rabbi that had a background in community organizing who would be their part-time rabbi and their part-time organizer for the broader Jewish community. That idea eventually developed into what today is Detroit Jews for Justice.

The congregation now resides in Oak Park, and has approximately 90 congregational members – more than double the membership from when Rabbi Alpert arrived in 2014. Rabbi Alpert attributes this growth to her smart congregation that adopted a social justice mission. Having an energetic, young rabbi out in the community raising awareness has attracted additional members, as well.

Aside from the original members setting some good objectives, their work is now resonating with a greater cross-section of people from a wider geographic area around Detroit, and includes new members from younger generations. While established members tend to be a steadfast part of the congregation, younger members connect with the social justice mission of Detroit Jews for Justice, and they eventually become more interested in the larger scope of work that the congregation does.

Detroit Jews for Justice is based off a successful model in New York, the Twin Cities and Washington, D.C., which they have adopted and adjusted to their context for their program in Oak Park. “Our mission is to be a Jewish voice in the progressive community and the Jewish community. We are interested in engaging Jews in movements for racial and economic justice,” describes Rabbi Alpert. “We have built a base of about 100 people who identify as Detroit Jews for Justice leaders, and they choose as a group to focus on certain topics.”

Rabbi Alpert is clear that their work distinguishes them from other groups; what they do is not social service. They are trying to change conditions. She also says there are lots of folks who live in the suburbs who want to put in time and get involved with Detroit. Detroit Jews for Justice is giving people more meaningful ways to connect with the city and be supportive of Detroiters.

As outlined in their core values, Detroit Jews for Justice honors the long history of activism that came before them and organizes around aspiring towards a better world. They choose work that is actionable, winnable and relevant to the lives and experiences of communities in the region. Their work follows the lead of people who are directly impacted by injustice; they support the work around key issues of Detroit and surrounding communities, and they address root causes of injustice.

The group now meets once a month at Rabbi Alpert’s home because young people seem to prefer to meet in homes. They also meet twice a month at the Mondrey building in Oak Park, and twice a month at various locations in Detroit. “We have a high percentage of attendance from our membership,” says Rabbi Alpert.

“We usually have at least 20 people on a Saturday morning and about 40 people on a Friday night.”

Rabbi Alpert reports that congregational members, as well as members for the Detroit Jews for Justice, travel from all over the metro area including Detroit, Shelby Township, West Bloomfield and Huntington Woods. As an organization that serves families who live in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, Oak Park has proved to be a comfortable commute and very convenient meeting point for everyone.