Maxfield Training Center
The Farmington City Council voted 4-1 at its May 4 meeting to approve an amendment to its agreement to purchase the Maxfield Training Center (MTC), located at 33000 Thomas Street in Downtown Farmington, together with an area of adjacent property within Shiawassee Park, from the Farmington Public Schools. The amended purchase price is $690,000.
In June 2019, the City of Farmington and Farmington Public Schools entered into a purchase and sale agreement under which the City agreed to buy the roughly 3-acre MTC property and the portion of Shiawassee Park that is owned by the Schools (the westernmost end of the park) but leased by the City for use as parkland. The purchase price was initially to be $750,000, and since signing the original agreement the City has been conducting its due diligence -- survey and title work, as well as soil and environmental testing.
The environmental site assessment and subsurface investigations received toward the end of 2019, which were conducted by the environmental engineering firm AKT Peerless on behalf of the City, revealed contamination underneath the existing parking lot in the southwest corner of the MTC site. That condition resulted in a delay in completing the transfer of the property, which is now set to occur within the next couple of months, and will need to be addressed and remediated with any future redevelopment of the site.
The City’s plan to purchase the property stems from a strategic desire to have more control over what is developed there. The MTC property is located in the heart of Downtown Farmington and is expected to be a key part of Farmington’s growing vitality.
“We would like to see this property developed in accordance with the City’s Master Plan,” explained City Manager David Murphy.
The MTC property is, in fact, the centerpiece of the City’s strategic plan for the area, and its acquisition gives the City maximum control over its redevelopment, including the chance to accomplish its long-term goal of connecting Downtown and Shiawassee Park
According to Murphy, City ownership may also help to streamline the development process and ensure that any future developer and the City are “on the same page” when it comes to re-use of the property. Many of the incentives that may be necessary to redevelop the property can only be granted by the City, so its investment early in the process should be a signal to potential purchasers that it will participate in a redevelopment that meets the City’s expectations.
The purchase also consolidates all of Shiawassee Park in the City’s sole ownership. Although Shiawassee Park seems like one integrated park property, the westernmost end is actually owned by the Schools and leased to the City. This dual ownership has, in the past, hindered grant applications, which typically require single, unencumbered ownership.
The City Council’s determination to move forward with the purchase under the revised terms of the agreement confirms a longstanding commitment to both its Downtown and its parks that has been central to its vision and plans for years. The Council appreciates the School Board’s cooperation in its efforts to transform both for the good of the City and the School District.
Q. Why did the City of Farmington want to purchase the Maxfield Training Center from the Farmington Public Schools?
A. The City wants to have more control over what is developed there. The property is located in the heart of Downtown Farmington and is a centerpiece of Farmington’s vision plan for redevelopment and regeneration. The City’s intention is to have this property redeveloped in accordance with the City’s Master Plan.
City ownership can also help to streamline the redevelopment process, since the City (through the City Council) controls many of the incentive programs that might be used by a purchasing developer (for example, the use of brownfield tax credits).With ownership and control of the MTC piece, the City can work directly with prospective purchasers to find the right fit for the property within the City’s own financial plans and position.
The purchase also gives the City ownership of all of Shiawassee Park. Although it seems like and functions as one continuous parcel, the westernmost end of the park is actually owned by the School District, which leases it to the City. This has caused issues in the past as far as submitting for and receiving grants to improve the park, since some of the typical sources of funds (e.g., the State) prefer or require single ownership of the park.
Q. What type of development would the City like to see on the MTC property?
A. The City is open to different proposals, but the City’s Master Plan for Land Use recognizes that redevelopment in the area of the MTC should be a mix of commercial and residential, and this parcel in particular is likely to be re-developed as some sort of multiple-family use, whether condominiums or apartments. The City’s Master Plan was developed with substantial input by residents and property owners, and relies on a wide range of information, including market research showing that Downtown Farmington could support a multiple-family residential development brings people to the Downtown and can benefit the schools with new students. The location of the MTC property with its view of the river would make for beautiful views and its proximity to local businesses and other attractions (like the park) would make it desirable for a mix of age groups.
We’d also like to use this area to establish a more connectivity between Shiaswassee Park and the entire Downtown area. The Rouge River is truly an underutilized treasure in our community, and the City has long planned for a walkable connection from Shiawassee Park all the way to Riley Park and beyond.
Q. Will the development be in keeping with the neighboring Historic District?
A. The City intends to solicit public input—including from the adjacent historic neighborhood—as the redevelopment process moves forward and will obviously follow any and all ordinance requirement in that regard. The City has no intention of approving a development that is not harmonious and in keeping with the Downtown area as a whole and the CBD (Central Business) District that the property is located in.
Q. Does the City feel the timing is appropriate for such a purchase, considering the current economic environment?
A. The City is aware of the current economic situation and is monitoring it closely. The decision to move forward with this purchase is truly a strategic one and an investment in the future of Farmington. Once developed, the property would not only bring in tax revenue for both the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the School District, but will bring new residents to the Downtown. The City has retained experts to assist it in finding the most efficient and cost-effective ways to finance the purchase of the property and to identify all possible sources of revenue and/or other assistance for the eventual redevelopment process. The City Council would not have proceeded if it did not believe that the purchase was a sound and timely investment in the City’s future.
Q. Do you think the City will make a profit on the sale of the MTC property?
A. That would be nice, but is by no means guaranteed given not only the current economic climate but also the environmental issues with the property. Any developer that purchases it will be responsible for removing the contaminants, which will factor into the sale price, and there are other factors that limit the development potential of the property as well (particularly its size and location next to both single-family homes and commercial parcels). That said, the MTC parcel does need to be cleaned up, and it will—now that the School District has definitely moved on from it—be redeveloped into something other than a public building. The opportunity for the City to guide and focus that redevelopment to fit its plans—and not just a developer or purchaser’s—has a value that is not easy to reduce to dollars and cents. And eventually that investment by the City will pay off, bringing the property onto the tax rolls and putting it to good economic use.
Q. The environmental report mentions contamination on the MTC site; is that contamination contained now and will it be during redevelopment?
A. As part of it due diligence before completing any purchase of the MTC site, the City retained the environmental engineering firm AKT Peerless, which is based in Farmington, to do a thorough analysis of the environmental conditions at the site. As a result of their work, various common contaminants were found on the property, under the parking lot paving at the southwest corner of the site (along Thomas Street). They are generally associated with the demolition of the old school building before the current building was built. The School District and the City do not believe that these contaminants—which have obviously been there for many, many years—pose a risk to the public while the site remains physically undisturbed (that is, no demolition or digging in the area of the contamination occurs).
The City has also been assured that when redevelopment of the site does occur the contaminants can–and will—be both contained and remediated safely. There are rules and protocols for the developer and the City to follow as the clean-up work proceeds, and that’s particularly true where (as we expect) the development will likely qualify for brownfield redevelopment credits.
All of the reports that we received from our environmental engineers are available on our website.