One Man's Vision Of Protecting Detroit With Public Safety 'Super Centers'

May 03, 2013, 4:49 PM by  Doron Levin

Rendering of super center

Detroit can’t regain viability without restoring fundamentals: education, financial stability, good government and, perhaps chief among them, public safety.

No one is going to move to Detroit -- no family, in any event -- unless the city offers reliable public safety and top-notch education.  Money isn't enough; public officials must be creative as to how they contend with the city's many difficulties.

But before luring new residents to Detroit, the city must plug the hole in the bucket and give those who are here reasons to stay.  

People who live in the neighborhoods are moving away in droves.  Vast swaths of the city’s 139 square mile are too sparsely populated to protect adequately, given Detroit’s meager finances.

Chadsey Grad's Vision

Bernie Schrott, a lifelong real estate investor in Detroit and its environs, sees as clearly as anyone that without enormous investment in police, fire and emergency medical service, the exodus from the city won’t stop.  Notwithstanding Dan Gilbert’s investments downtown (please Dan, don’t stop!) a bleak dystopian future awaits city neighborhoods unless they are protected.

Schrott, a Chadsey High School graduate who has served as an advisory Detroit fire commissioner, has spent two years and several hundred thousand dollars putting together a bold proposal to build six public safety “super centers.”  Their locations would roughly coincide with the new voting districts that take effect this fall.  (A seventh “super center” already exists in what will become District 7, for the southwest.)

The Public Safety Service Centers, as designed, would have space for police operations, fire fighting equipment, as well as an office and meeting room for the district's council member.  At least two other groups have submitted proposals as well, including Redico, which is developing the Gateway Project at the Fairgrounds. Schrott is a partner in that project, too.

According to Schrott and others, most of Detroit’s fire stations are crumbling and beyond repair.  Of the 50 stations operated by the city, 70 percent are over 85 years old.  Police and fire are getting a new downtown headquarters but they also could use newer and more public-friendly centers close to where the action is.  His proposal is a response to a request from Detroit to come up with a plan.

There's Just One Snag . . .

One small hurdle to the bold new plan from Schrott or anyone else: Detroit is broke.

But he has a solution.  Schrott says that each public safety super center would cost $15 million and $90 million for the entire project.  Since the city is deeply in the hole, led by an Emergency Financial Manager who is negotiating to restructure $14 billion in debt, he proposes that his group of investors would own the centers and lease them to the city.

At the moment, the city is spending $2.5 million a year in maintenance and utilities just to open the doors of its fire stations – a sum that doesn’t include any capital repairs.  Under Schrott’s plan, the city would pay $9 million to $10 million annually to occupy the 35,000 square foot super centers.

Ideally a city should be financially able to own its own buildings and equipment. Detroit, to state the obvious, doesn’t fit into this category.

Perhaps in a financially stable future the city can afford to own its own public safety buildings – but until that day comes, thank heavens for Detroiters who envision a future and will put their own capital at risk.

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