Development investments flow into Pontiac's downtown

Originally published by The Detroit News by Mike Martindale

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Interest in downtown Pontiac development is similar to what's being seen in some other large cities around the state. Grand Rapids and Detroit, for instance, have seen a resurgence in old building rehabs and new construction and an influx of young workers who want to live and play in the city centers.

One such project is the rehabilitation of the long-shuttered 858-seat Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts, which could reopen next year with $20 million in renovations.

"We have some big plans, and they are realistic," Strand President and CEO Bill Lee said. "There are 2.7 million people within a 20-minute drive of downtown Pontiac. We see the Strand as an important part in drawing visitors and new residents here."

The Strand, a former 1921 vaudeville theater and later movie house, has not operated since the mid-1990s. Lee said renovation is in full swing, and he predicts plays, concerts and community theater will make the Strand a destination for Metro Detroiters.

A screening room will be available for small groups to watch films in 21-inch wide luxury seats. And there will be an attached restaurant and bar, Lee said.

"We are hoping to open in late 2015," he said.

Investors such as Kyle Westberg, whose West Construction Co. is doing the Strand's renovations, counter there are still 2,100 surface spaces available downtown.

"We consider it (Strand) a catalyst project which will spur input from the public, the politicians and other investments," Westberg said.

He said 240 residential units downtown are all filled. CORE is looking at creating 200 additional units.

Other investments that could help support the city's economic recovery are:

■A $200 million, 138,000-square-foot expansion of General Motors' Powertrain headquarters on Joslyn Road.

■A $52.5 million Challenge Manufacturing Plant on the former site of GM's Pontiac Assembly Plant at 2100 S. Opdyke. The 400,000-square-foot auto parts plant is expected to employ 400 workers.

■A $40 million M1 Concourse auto "condos" and test track operation on Woodward and South Boulevard at the site of a leveled GM truck and coach plant.

■The $1.8 million Wessen indoor tennis courts at 121 Branch, south of Orchard Lake between Woodward and Telegraph.

Westberg said his projects north of Huron Street have already brought new life to old spaces. He renovated a vacant Sears building into a market and cafe, a 500-member health club and 46 lofts.

Schewe said the sacrifices and commitment made during Pontiac's financial emergency — such as having the Oakland County Sheriff's Office take over police duties from the city's depleted department — have made it the safest downtown in southeast Michigan and helped to spur investors' faith.

"With young professionals showing interest in the area and the nearby hospital, there is a real need for more residential," Schewe said.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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