Oak Park City Guide 2020

AS AN OAKLAND COUNTY COMMISSIONER WITH THE HONOR OF REPRESENTING Oak Park for almost 18 years, I have enjoyed getting to know the many wonderful residents and public servants who live and work in this special community.

I want to thank the former Mayor Jerry Naftaly, who welcomed me when I first started to represent Oak Park in 2003. As a life-long resident of Oak Park, Mayor Naftaly was a fiercely loyal and dedicated public servant. He passionately contributed to the family-centered community of Oak Park.

The current Mayor Marion McClellan welcomed new faces and brought new ideas to Oak Park. A newer City Manager, Erik Tungate, stabilized the City budget during the challenging economic times in 2008-2010. He brought fresh ideas such as economic development, a corridor improvement authority and attractive streetscapes, which improved the quality of life in Oak Park.

Oak Park is a special community where diverse cultures and religions truly unite for the good of the community. Residents have good reason to appreciate their superior resources such as the Public Safety department, pool, many recreation classes and an excellent library.

I AM RETIRING AS COUNTY COMMISSIONER AT THE END OF THE YEAR. It has been my honor and privilege to help solve everyday problems and serve the residents of Oak Park. Thank you for the opportunity to represent this special community!

I HAVE SPENT THE VAST MAJORITY OF MY LIFE IN AND AROUND OAK PARK, and I consider myself blessed to represent my neighbors, friends, and family that reside in this community.

Growing up, I regularly visited my grand-parents who chose Oak Park as their home when they relocated from Canada in 1969. My grandfather, a union electrician, moved here with my grandmother to work on the Fermi plant. But it was the people of Oak Park and the sense of community that inspired them to stay. The kindness of residents, the beauty and affordability of neighborhoods, and the quality public amenities kept my grandparents in Oak Park for the duration of their lives.

The teachers, neighbors, and friends I met in Oak Park helped shape me into the person I am today; from the educators at Norup to my neighbors on Harding Street. As an adult, I owned my first home in Oak Park because I was drawn to the diversity of the city’s residents, neighborhoods, and businesses; I knew that Oak Park would be a perfect community for me to thrive.

AS I REFLECT ON OAK PARK IN HONOR OF OUR 75TH BIRTHDAY, I have fond memories that span the course of my lifetime, and I look forward to sharing them with my own children. I am humbled and honored to serve all Oak Park residents – my neighbors and friends – as our state representative in Lansing. My passion for public service and helping others is undoubtedly a result of my upbringing in and around Oak Park, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Happy Birthday, Oak Park! You’ve never looked better!

Robert Wittenberg
State Representative

MY FAMILY HAS DEEP ROOTS IN AND AROUND OAK PARK.

My grandfather owned the Sunoco gas station at 8 Mile and Coolidge for several decades, which became an Oak Park landmark known for its reliable service and hard-working mechanics. My father paid his way through college as a mail carrier up and down the streets of Oak Park neighborhoods and my mother was a summer counselor at Oak Park Parks & Recreation in the 1970s.

ONE OF MY EARLIEST MEMORIES GROWING UP WAS WALKING WITH MY GRANDPARENTS from their Southfield home down to Oak Park Boulevard to play on the trains at Oak Park Park. When I ran for State Senate in our district in 2018, it was an incredibly nostalgic feeling to canvass in the neighborhoods around what is now Shepherd Park and passing by those same trains. I’ll admit that, even as an adult, I had to climb onto those trains to relive that experience I had as a little kid.

Oak Park is renowned in our region as a strong community with vibrant neighborhoods, friendly residents, and an honest government.

Growing up around a community with these attributes have shaped my desire to serve and it is an honor to advocate for our shared values every day in the State Senate. I’m proud to represent this community as it celebrates its 75th birthday and am excited to join with Oak Park community members as we usher in the next 75 years! n

Jeremy Moss
State Senator
Michigan’s 11th District
Representing Southern Oakland County
Assistant Democratic Leader

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Dear Residents of Oak Park:

I would like to extend a heartfelt congratulations to the City of Oak Park for celebrating 75 years. It is my pleasure to recognize the city for its extended commitment to its citizens and community. I am honored to represent a city as dynamic and promising as Oak Park.

Oak Park is home to just under 30,000 residents, with each family bringing something unique to the community. As your member of Congress, I have worked closely with Mayor McClellan and City Manager Erik Tungate, to ensure Oak Park residents have the highest quality of life possible. The city is growing rapidly, and I look forward to our continued work in securing the cultural diversity, access to resources and safety of such a beautiful city. Oak Park is more than just a city, it is a home and an identity. It is my honor to represent this great city, and I would like to congratulate all residents on 75 years.

In special tribute, I, Congresswoman Brenda L. Lawrence, do hereby celebrate the City of Oak Park for 75 years. I join the community in expressing our appreciation for the many years of providing homes, communities and businesses for Michigan residents. On behalf of the United States of America, I thank you on your servitude to our nation.

Brenda Lawrence
Member of the U.S. Congress

FOR THE PAST 16 YEARS, NANCY QUARLES HAS REPRESENTED OAK PARK in a variety of capacities, including in the Michigan state legislature and as county commissioner for Oakland County’s 17th District.

“Electric ideas have transformed Oak Park in the last few years. That, and the residents’ sense of community will ensure success into the future,” Quarles said, as she looks forward to the city’s 75th Anniversary and anticipates the city’s COVID-19 pandemic recovery. “We will move forward again with our positive momentum because of strong leadership and our community base.”

Quarles points to the balance between the social and residential aspects of the city that Oak Park has worked so hard to achieve. She sees economic development and the residents’ connection to the city as the foundation for success for the next 75 years.

“We will get back to growing our small businesses and restaurants, which were thriving before COVID-19,” she said. “We have been drawing a new energy from our sister cities, and we have done well keeping our sense of community

HISTORICALLY ONE OF THE METRO DETROIT AREA’S BEDROOM COMMUNITIES, Oak Park has been growing into more of its own. Since Quarles was elected Oakland County Commissioner for the area in 2010, she has seen new elected officials come in with ideas and energy for change. They have prioritized teamwork with the community, anchored by neighborhood block clubs.

Quarles has witnessed the difference block clubs have made and the way they add vibrancy to the community.

“They hold festivals and picnics, as well as beautification projects and Music in the Park concerts that benefit all of Oak Park,” she said. “They always have something going on. I have always loved the fireworks in Shepherd Park.”

“One of my favorite events is the Fourth of July parade,” Quarles remembered. “Residents line the streets and everyone gets involved – from the kids in the school bands, to the classic car lineups to the organizations, like the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Association, that march each year. It is the epitome of community.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, sponsored by the Oak Park Board of Education, is another event that demonstrates a spirit of community, according to Quarles. It draws people together and gets school kids involved in celebrating King’s philosophy. She said, “It’s a very special event.”

EMBRACING THE CITY’S DIVERSITY, including its strong Jewish, African-American, Chaldean and Arab populations, is another essential factor in Oak Park’s success. They bring a rich, eclectic mix, and according to Quarles, “they have a lot of respect for each other’s traditions and cultures, for diversity.”

“In my 16 years representing Oak Park, it has been my privilege to see all of the positive growth and changes that have brought us to this 75th anniversary,” she said. “If I had one wish for the future, I would like the citizens to continue their strong sense of community. Oak Park will continue to thrive because of its people.”

 

By Erik Tungate, City Manager

THE CITY OF OAK PARK IS ONE OF THE MOST PROGRESSIVE COMMUNITIES in Michigan. That definitive statement might surprise people but it’s true.

Over the span of 75 years since the city’s incorporation, Oak Park has upheld its reputation as an inclusive community with a familyfriendly culture. In more recent years, we’ve also enhanced our brand as “a great place to do business.” Since 2014, when Oak Park completed an aggressive n designed to promote private sector investment, our city has been on the move.

Oak Park is situated on the southern edge of Oakland County and the northern border of the City of Detroit. Until recent years, Oak Park was known as a “bedroom community” – where residents live, but work in other cities, mainly Detroit. During my eight-year tenure as City Manager, however, we’ve experienced historic growth in terms of licensing small businesses and corporations for operation within Oak Park’s city limits.

Three significant corporations – Fed Ex Ground Distribution Center, Bollinger Motors, and the Kroger Company – have joined our community within the past five years. In 2015, international courier service Fed Ex developed a 304,000 square-foot distribution center in Oak Park’s Armory Park, representing one of Oak Park’s largest commercial land deals on record. Fed Ex employs more than 245 people and operates 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week at the facility now located at Greenfield Rd. and W. 8 Mile Rd.

This year, Bollinger Motors, a manufacturer of electric, four-wheel drive trucks, relocated its headquarters to Oak Park’s 11 Mile corridor to accommodate the company’s expansion.

And Kroger recently completed construction and opened a full-service grocery store on Greenfield Rd. These three companies join a host of Oak Park veteran manufacturers and service businesses, which include Eaton Steel Bar, Hagopian, WeatherGard, RingSide Creative, Barton Malow Rigging, EJ Group, and Brilar.

IT’S A KNOWN FACT THAT OAK PARK RESIDENTS DEMONSTRATE CONSISTENT LOYALTY in patronizing local, small businesses, so our community is very attractive to small retailers as well. We’ve substantially increased our number of small businesses in recent years. New ventures include Oak Park Social, Classic Expressions, Unexpected Craft Brewing Co., Nerd Out Toys, Wing Snob, Mad Crab, Dog & Pony Show Brewing and The Oak Parker restaurant. We also celebrated the grand opening of nonprofit Forgotten Harvest’s new headquarters and campus on 8 Mile Rd. The new establishments expand our existing, small business community, which also includes our own Ernie’s Market, Peteet’s Famous Cheesecakes, Curv Bella Boutique, K&F International Market, Leyton’s, The Book Beat, Street Corner Music, and Eddie’s Gourmet.

Businesses have many reasons to choose to plant roots in Oak Park. The city’s strategic location is an attractive feature. Oak Park is bordered by three, major thruways: John C. Lodge Freeway (M-10) to the west, Walter P. Reuther Freeway (I-696) to the north, and 8 Mile Rd. (M-102) to the south. Most of the credit for our success, however, is shared by the City’s innovative Economic Development department and the collaborative efforts of all our administrative departments. We pride ourselves on our competitive recruitment approach and our ability to offer businesses of all sizes a streamlined licensing process.

IT’S SUCH AN HONOR TO SERVE AS CITY MANAGER OF ONE OF MICHIGAN’S MOST CUTTING-EDGE COMMUNITIES. I came into this position knowing there existed a solid foundation from which we could make measurable progress. And we have. Oak Park is on a solid trajectory toward continued growth. I fully anticipate significant community and economic development for years to come.

By Mayor Marian McClellan, City of Oak Park, Michigan

THE GEOGRAPHIC AREA NOW KNOWN AS THE CITY OF OAK PARK WAS ONCE described as “worthless, not fit for habitation.” Oak Park used to be one large marsh, complete with murky waters, abundant plant life, and Michigan swamp creatures.

HOWEVER, DESPITE ITS EARLY, UNDESIRABLE FEATURES, THE AREA WAS INCORPORATED AS A VILLAGE in 1927, with fewer than 1,000 residents, and incorporated as a city 75 years ago in 1945.

Prior to World War II, Oak Park was considered unfit for development. While Detroit suburbs flourished along the Woodward corridor and west of Greenfield, in 1945 Jewish land developers eyed Oak Park with interest as the war ended.

Some thought it would be a great place for an airport, while others considered building a racetrack (which eventually happened but in Hazel Park). Builders, however, felt it would attract Jewish residents to the suburbs where there were no land covenants restricting homeownership due to race and/or religion.

Before WWII, 20,000 pieces of lumber were required to build one new frame house, restricting contractors to building only one or two homes per year. Prebuilt, ready-to-use modules made popular in the war, made it possible for one contractor to build 22 houses per year. Young families raced to occupy bright, new, modern homes in the suburbs.

IN ADDITION TO PLENTIFUL HOUSING STOCK, THREE MAIN FACTORS drove Oak Park’s rapid and unique growth: 1) Accessible home financing through the military GI Bill for veterans; 2) Newfound housing opportunities for religious and racial minorities; and 3) Sound decisions by early city officials.

Some families moved to Oak Park to be nearer Northland Shopping Center, which was one of the first outdoor malls in the United States. However, the majority of Jewish families settled in the area due to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veteran Administration (VA) rules for returning Jewish war veterans which required that they live in new construction outside of Detroit. This became the prevailing impetus for early Jewish settlement in both, Oak Park and Southfield.

Elected mayor in 1949, Gerald Kent had the foresight to hire a City planner to develop Oak Park’s first Master Plan, which, with recent modifications, still provides the basis for community development today. In 1951, Oak Park City Council combined policing, firefighting, and emergency medical services into one, innovative Public Safety Department, which became a national model.

Oak Park Schools Superintendent James Pepper spearheaded new construction of eleven, state-of-the-art public schools within twelve years to match the City’s tremendous 565% population growth, of which 43 percent were school-aged children. By 1960 there were 10,000 children attending Oak Park schools annually.

OAK PARK BECAME KNOWN AS THE FASTEST-GROWING CITY IN AMERICA, expanding from 2,000 to 37,300 residents between 1947 and 1963. Between 1950 and 1960, Oak Park became home to seven synagogues, five churches, a dozen baseball diamonds, a public swimming pool, a library, a recreation center, an ice rink and two parks. In 1960, the City introduced its first Independence Day Parade.

In the 1970s, white residents began moving away from Oak Park as black families moved into the City (a racist trend known as ). Oakland County encouraged urban sprawl, prompting families to move further out into the northwest suburbs. Many Jewish families stayed loyal to Oak Park, however, and welcomed the diversity. This transition period resulted in declining municipal revenues and, once again, destabilized Oak Park’s economy.

In the 1980s and 1990s, however, the City of Oak Park began bouncing back. The Jewish Federation started the Neighborhood Project in 1988, which provided Jewish families in Oak Park with interest-free loans for home-buying or improvements. Once again, Oak Park returned to being one of few stable, diverse communities in America.

AT THE ONSET OF THE CITY’S ECONOMIC RECOVERY, the State of Michigan and federal government proposed a project that threatened to destroy the community. The plan involved slicing the city in half to accommodate the construction of Interstate 696.

The Honorable Charlotte Rothstein, the first woman mayor of Oak Park elected in 1981, went to Washington, D.C. to lobby the federal government for assistance in building a pathway over the expressway so that families on either side could attend religious services. Mayor Rothstein’s dedication to literally building bridges helped stabilize Oak Park and maintain our diverse culture. Today, we celebrate the beautiful parks and crossways that run over the freeway and connect our community.

The Great Recession of 2007 had a devastating impact on Oak Park property values, as many residents lost their jobs and their homes. Caught in the back-draft of the worst economic crisis in 70 years, Oak Park had 100 vacant commercial and industrial properties. Property tax revenues fell by 50 percent, while Oak Park’s state revenue-sharing model plummeted by $5M as compared to the previous decade.

In November 2011, however, changes in Oak Park’s leadership initiated the City’s comeback. Once again, a series of sound government decisions rescued the City from potential bankruptcy and set Oak Park on a growth trajectory.

Today, Oak Park is progressing again relative to residential and business growth. In keeping with our history of resilience, Oak Park remains one of few stable, inclusive communities in the nation.