Troy Transit Center opening back on track after judge’s ruling

From the Detroit Free Press:

Photo by Larry Sobczak
Photo by Larry Sobczak

Officials in Troy were optimistic today that the city’s controversial Multi-Modal Transit Center would finally be able to open now that a judge has granted the city the title for the land.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman’s order transferring the title is contingent upon the city paying the owner of the land — developer Gary Sakwa and his Farmington Hills company Grand/Sakwa Properties — $1.05 million for the 2.7-acre parcel.

Though the land owners are expected to challenge the purchase price, that shouldn’t stop the center from opening soon.

“The transit center can open even though the purchase has not been complete,” said Lori Bluhm, Troy city attorney. “The critical step is to have the title, which we now have. We’re optimistic we’re going to be able to get the transit center open as soon as possible.”

The $6.4-million transit center, at the southwest corner of Maple and Coolidge on the city’s border with Birmingham, was finished last fall. But Amtrak train passengers have continued using a bus shelter on the Birmingham side of the tracks because Amtrak officials would not allow the center to open before the city attained the title.

City officials have claimed since 2000 that Troy owned the land. But last May, an appeals court unanimously ruled the city did not abide by a court agreement signed in June 2000 that let Grand/Sakwa Properties build a $100-million shopping and condo complex while giving Troy exactly 10 years to fund its transit project. Troy missed its deadline, the court ruled.

Now, the city can proceed with the next step, Bluhm said, and finalize a lease agreement with Amtrak officials. The transit center is expected to serve as a regional base of rail-transit customers arriving by car, SMART bus, taxi and bicycle. It was endorsed by Gov. Rick Snyder and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

“Obviously we’re feeling pretty good,” Troy Mayor Dane Slater said. “I think we’re looking at it from a positive standpoint and a necessary step we need to take to get it open.”

The facility was made possible through federal grant money administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

While the center may soon opening, the legal battles may go on.

In addition to compensation for the land, Grand/Sakwa Properties has sought money to cover the shopping center’s anticipated costs of wear by transit riders on the access drives through the center’s property, use of its parking spaces by travelers and the added need for security.

Sakwa said today’s ruling is a small part of the process.

“It’s not even close to over,” he said. “This is the very beginning. This is far from the end.

“They can get it open, but they still have to pay for it.”

Sakwa’s attorney, Allen Green, said they did not challenge the condemnation action, which allowed the city to get the title for the property. They are challenging the $1.05-million price tag.

“We don’t think it’s fair market value,” he said.

“There have been a lot of different moving pieces to this project,” said Bluhm. “We’re anxious to have this part of it resolved and moving forward.”

The project has invited its share of controversy. It was strongly opposed by former Mayor Janice Daniels. She maintained that it was wrong for a community to accept money “from a federal government that is trillions of dollars in debt” and that it was unneeded in an auto-centric town.

Daniels was recalled in 2012 in part — according to recall language on city ballots — because of her opposition to the project.