“Zombie” Project Set to Restart

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

City planners have created a clever term for what happened to the Dutton Corporate Centre, along with many other developments across the country during the Great Recession … they call them “zombies.”  Zombie projects are neither dead or alive, just in a state of limbo.

Today, we’re pleased to report some outstanding news.  The dormant Dutton Corporate Centre, originally built on and around a landfill, will soon get a shot of adrenaline and a new beginning.

To understand this complicated project, you must know its troubled history.  Here’s a quick synopsis.

Ski Lodge Turned Landfill
Located abutting the City’s northern boundary, the site was originally developed in the early 1960’s as the Silver Bell Ski Lodge.  In order to build the ski hill, the owners accepted fill material.  However a half century ago, this property was in the middle of nowhere and environmental controls were almost non-existent.  Much of the fill material was believed to have included dirty stuff such as foundry sand, scrap metal, and 55-gallon drums with “who knows what” in them.  The original developers of the ski lodge eventually went bankrupt in the late 1960’s and the property was subsequently purchased by a new company.

For about a decade, the new company operated a solid waste landfill on the site.  The landfill was not built to modern standards.  No clay liner was installed beneath the garbage, nor was it properly capped when operations ceased in 1979.  Additionally, no systems were ever installed for the collection and treatment of leachate (water that gets mixed with trash) or methane gas produced by the decomposing garbage.  It was a mess.

A Grand Vision
In 2001, a group of investors purchased the property with a plan to extend Dutton Road from Bald Mountain Road to M-24 and redevelop the site into a mixed use corporate park.  As you can imagine, the City was very excited about this grand vision back then.  During a six-year period (2002-2008), the investors spent millions of dollars grading the site, adding clean soil, modernizing the 20-acre landfill, building the Dutton Road extension, building two internal roads along with utilities, and constructing three buildings.  It was a Herculean effort.

Aerial view looking at the Dutton Road Extension and Dutton Corporate Centre (2006)

Aerial view looking at the Dutton Road Extension and Dutton Corporate Centre (2006)

This project was front loaded with millions of dollars of capital expenses.  The investors needed the corporate park to fill up in order to pay off their debts and make a profit.  Unfortunately, the economy bottomed out on them.  It was awful timing for the investors as the demand for new commercial construction dramatically declined throughout Southeast Michigan between 2007 and 2011.  The bank wanted payments on the debt service, but no new income was coming in.  These circumstances put the project into legal and financial limbo for many years.

A New Beginning
Today, a new owner, Rich LaLonde, has taken over the unfinished project.  Mr. LaLonde has worked closely with the City to improve the master plan for the redevelopment of the site, which is shown below.

Revised PUD Concept Plan for the Dutton Corporate Centre (Proposed)

Revised PUD Concept Plan for the Dutton Corporate Centre (Proposed)

Mr. LaLonde plans to build a Kia car dealership on the site near M-24 (more information to come).  Many unfinished items within the corporate park are expected to be completed this year.  A highlight of the updated plan includes the creation of a large 28-acre dedicated open space area to better buffer the project from the adjacent neighborhood located to the east.  It’s an exciting restart for the troubled property.

Those interested in learning more about the updated Dutton Corporate Centre proposal are encouraged to attend the public hearing at the Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Wednesday, May 11th at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chamber at City Hall.  A final decision on the project is anticipated to be made by the City Council on Monday, May 23rd.

No longer in limbo … this zombie is about to come back to life.