My “Stylon” Experience

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

What the heck is a stylon?

It’s hard to believe that it has been almost three years since I first heard the word.  I will never forget the experience.  City Manager Pete Auger and I were meeting with Nico Schultz from Taubman about his company’s desire to rebrand the Great Lakes Crossing Mall.

Nico explained that his company wanted to improve the sales productivity at the center and establish it as a premier outlet shopping destination for the region and beyond.  Most importantly, they needed the City’s help in creating a new sign presence on I-75.

After a few pleasantries, Nico pulled out a drawing which displayed a 50 foot tall monument sign and said “What do you think?  We are calling this a stylon.  It’s something new that no one else has ever done in our industry.  We would like to put up eight of them along I-75.”   Nico continued to further explain that many people just drive by and don’t realize what the center has to offer … or that it’s even there.

With a little hesitation, my first reaction was “um … that’s kind of tall.”  I was trying to keep an open mind, but I was pretty sure the City Council wouldn’t like it.  A few years before, the Council decided to change all of our zoning laws to discourage tall signs.   I had lived through past zoning battles over signs like this.  The idea was really outside the box.

Pete’s reaction to the proposal blew me away.   He said, “I kind of like it … let’s keep an open mind.”   Looking back, we were in the heart of the Great Recession and businesses were struggling.  Pete explained to me that we had an obligation to help the Taubman Company improve the mall for the sake of the City.   A failing center meant lower tax revenues, increased police activity, and a bad image for the community.  I will never forget his words … “we must partner with them, our success is based on relationships.” 

It was an immediate “ah-ha” moment for me.   In retrospect, I couldn’t see the ‘forest for the trees.’  I got so caught up in the small details that I had failed to grasp the bigger picture.

Instead of seeing things through the eyes of a leader, I was looking through the lens of a zoning technician.   That experience had a profound impact on me and how I approach my job today.

As a result, we worked hard as a team with the Planning Commission and City Council to draft new zoning rules and help the Taubman company obtain approvals to install these iconic signs.  I am so glad we did.

The stylons are a symbol of the rebirth of Great Lakes Crossing and serve as a signature gateway to our community.

We partnered with Taubman to help their business and improve Auburn Hills.  It was an intentional decision because “it’s all about relationships.”  More than a mantra, it’s how we roll.