Mayor’s Vision for Dearborn
The focus at the paper has undergone an active shift. Instead of commenting on anything under the sun, we wanted to deal more with local news. Specifically, we wanted to cover politics and events happening in and around Henry Ford campus. While brainstorming ideas in writer’s meetings, certain topics began to come up that needed a special kind of source for information. We were lucky enough to get a meeting with the current mayor of Dearborn, John O’Reilly Jr. and he had a lot to say about the future of the city.
O’Reilly has been the official mayor of Dearborn since 2007, but first stepped into office when preceding mayor Michael Guido lost his battle with cancer in December of 2006. Before becoming mayor, O’Reilly had a long standing career as a public servant for 17 years. His father was also the mayor of Dearborn from 1978 to 1985.
The first question we had regarded the decision to remove the parking meters from the downtown area. For many who have frequented downtown west Dearborn, parking fines may have become a familiar occurrence. Now visitors have nothing to fear on this front. We asked O’Reilly what inspired this move. He explained to us that metered parking has not always been the case in Dearborn, since meters were also removed during O’Reilly’s father’s time as mayor. In order to attract business into Dearborn, the city agreed to issue bonds to build a parking structure as part of an agreement to get an undisclosed company to commit to building a place of business next door. However, the company went bankrupt and was unable to uphold their end of the bargain. “The parking was not intended to cost anything, but the obligation was inescapable,” says O’Reilly as he explains the origins of the parking meters. The city had a debt that it needed to take care of and in order to not burden the taxpayers, they decided to reinstate metered parking. The city has since been able to pay off the debt from the parking structure debacle. “Often times to attract business you have to offer incentives,” says O’Reilly. Free parking could encourage economic growth; “It gets rid of a disincentive.”
The Mirror News did a story last issue on the recent removal of the Orville Hubbard statue in east downtown Dearborn. The former mayor Hubbard has been described as a racist and The Mirror News asked if that was the reason his statue was removed. This was not the case. The place where the statue once stood is now owned by a private company and not the city. In this space, the mayor excitedly tells us that there will be a new downtown development: Artspace lofts. O’Reilly recalls seeing these lofts when he would travel to New York or San Francisco over the years and is happy to introduce the space to Dearborn. He calls a plan like Artspace a “catalyst for development in the district.” Artists often bring interest to a city and can develop a community. This has been done in Detroit in the past, but once the community was established the rent would be raised forcing many artists to have to move. According to O’Reilly these lofts would “protect artists through rent control.” Detroit has set an example for Dearborn, showing us the do’s and don’ts. “In 2009 we did not know what would happen to Midtown but it turns out that this is the perfect time to have this because the artists and people who can’t afford rent there can come here.” Artspace lofts will be open for tenants in January 2016.
Public transportation has been a major issue in this area for a long time. Dearborn is hoping to change this. On December 15, 2014, the John D. Dingell Transit Center was opened. This station replaced the smaller Amtrak station that was constructed in 1979. The station was possible through the $28.2 million granted by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As it travels to Chicago, the mayor points out that many people will park in Dearborn before travelling to the Windy City. He hopes, with the new changes coming to Dearborn, that people will be leaving their cars in Chicago to board the train to Dearborn.
The city of Dearborn is expanding its sidewalks to reach Ford Field. Bikes will be available at bike shares. This will offer a variety of transportation methods aside from the automobile. Dearborn also received funding for a train that will be able to travel 110 miles per hour to Chicago, which will be completed in 2016. O’Reilly finished our meeting with this assessment: “we have seen a great opportunity to develop more interest in Dearborn.”
“Of course there are many other things going on in this city,” O’Reilly tells us as he walks us out of the room, “We would be glad to talk to you about these developments as they come up.” And, we hope to hear about them.