In a broad effort to entice new businesses and promote economic vibrancy, Southgate city officials are working to carve out a new identity for the downriver community’s commercial district.
Southgate’s downtown district, largely defined as Eureka Road between Allen Road and Fort Street and parts of Trenton and Dix Toledo roads, is slowly taking shape with Market Center Park at the heart of it.
The public space, at a corner of the Southgate Shopping Center on Eureka Road where a massive Montgomery Ward Inc. store once stood, is a core aspect of the city’s plans to steer private investment to the shopping district.
“It was meant to be a catalyst for the shopping center there in our commercial district and it is now starting to prove to be that,” Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa said. “The real test that we had is to see private investment come back to that area.”
Last year, the Southgate Shopping Center fared well, bringing in five new businesses, including martial arts school Metro Jiu-Jitsu and fashion retailer Style U Boutique, according to Stephanie McNees, Southgate’s Downtown Development Authority Director.
Another new business expected to open later this year is World of Games, a 20,000-square-foot bar-restaurant and entertainment center, featuring indoor games including ax-throwing, football bowling and feather-bowling, according to its Facebook page.
Co-owner Jeff Taylor bills the concept as the “opposite of Dave & Buster’s,” with a focus on physical games. The bar and dining area will be at the center, while the game stations will line the perimeter of the building, he said. The business will serve pizza, burgers, hot dogs and more.
Taylor, who declined to provide investment costs and leasing information, is pushing for an October or November opening.
Other projects on the horizon in the shopping center include the redevelopment of a former Kroger store. The 64,823 square-foot space is being redeveloped by Los Angeles-based DealPoint Merrill LLC into an indoor storage facility, according to Danielle Watson, DealPoint’s director of communications.
The developer, which acquired the shopping center last year, is aiming for a September soft opening, Watson said.
The facility represents $18 million investment in the city, according to Kuspa.
On Trenton Road, Ecorse-based Downriver Community Federal Credit Union is constructing a new building sandwiched between pizza restaurant Old Chicago and MJR Southgate Digital Cinema 20’s parking lot that will serve as its new headquarters, according to McNees.
The project at 15261 Trenton Rd. broke ground in June, the News Herald reported, and is expected to be completed by mid-December.
The credit union purchased the land for $700,000 in August 2018, according to CoStar Group Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based real estate information service.
A 100-room Staybridge Suites hotel is also heading to Southgate, a high-end extended stay brand owned by United Kingdom-based InterContinental Hotels Group.
The hotel at the intersection of Northline and Reeck Roads, which represents about $12 million in new investment, is being developed by Farmington Hills-based Stellar Hospitality LLC, according to City Administrator Dustin Lent.The developer broke ground on the hotel in early spring, according to McNees.
The independently owned and operated franchise property is expected to open during the fourth quarter of 2020, Ada Hatzios, spokeswoman for InterContinental Hotels, said in an email.
Property values took a hit
In 2018, 43 businesses either moved to Southgate or made substantial investments in their existing facilities, Kuspa said.
“We took the last several years reinventing local government and the need for residence and business communities,” Kuspa said, “but really to meet the financial constraints that the reduced property values had placed on the city.”
Over the last decade, the city faced an almost 30 percent loss in property value and revenue due to the economic downturn the country faced from 2008-11, according to Kuspa.The Southgate Shopping Center suffered from a string of vacancies over the years. After Montgomery Ward filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001, the Southgate Shopping Center’s anchoring store closed and left a gaping vacancy for nearly two decades, according Kuspa.
Now, the shopping center is mostly full, with only one storefront unaccounted for, according to McNees.
Discussions around converting the Montgomery Ward property into a public space trace back to 2009. Owner Michael Sisskind agreed to fund the tear-down about three years later, according to Kuspa.
“It took some time to convince [him] that this would be good for the balance of this property and he was very gracious in agreeing, and ultimately taking down the building and donating it to the city,” Kuspa said.
The park was funded by a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and private investment, for about $460,000, the News Herald reported in 2015.
Completed in 2015, the park has become the new home of several major events including the city’s annual Heritage Days Festival and Market in the Park, a weekly gathering of local vendors during the summer months.
Focus on aesthetics
Given that Southgate is not a traditional downtown, one of the challenges McNees faces as the city’s first full-time downtown development director is drumming up creative and innovative ways to create a vibrant, downtown feel.
Illuminated pathways are being installed to promote walkability from Eureka Road to Market Center Park, and from the park to Trenton Road and into those residential areas, Kuspa said. That project is nearly two-thirds done.
McNees said one of her immediate goals is to focus on the aesthetics of the current downtown. The city offers a program called Business Improvement Grant Program as a way to encourage businesses to beautify their storefronts.
Last year, only one business applied for a grant, but she’s making an effort to rebuild that program by re-educating owners about the benefits.
The DDA is also working with art teachers at Southgate Anderson High School to encourage students to create pieces of art that will be converted into banners sponsored by local businesses to display throughout the city’s commercial district, McNees said.
“People want to be a part of Southgate,” Kuspa said. “We’re very thankful for all of our residents and business community in believing in this community.”