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Pontiac: What is Left?

by: Michael McGuinness

Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 17:19:13 PM EST


At the January 31, 2013 Pontiac City Council meeting I spoke during Public Comments. I felt compelled to do so after listening as fellow citizens week after week were understandably upset about the loss of various structures and municipally-owned assets in recent years and in years to come. Here is the extended text of my remarks, which I truncated greatly to condense as much of its sentiment as possible into the five minute time limit for each public comment:

To those who lament that all that made Pontiac special has been or will be sold or demolished, I say: much is left. I say this not for or against any individual or official. I say this for all of us, for we all should be full of Pontiac Pride.

Michael McGuinness :: Pontiac: What is Left?
What is left? Pontiac. The city remains. And the city remains intact. It has not been dissolved; it has not filed bankruptcy (which for one California city meant over $11 Million in legal fees and counting for the process alone). The borders have not shrunk; the neighborhoods and districts have not been severed off or shipped away to neighboring communities.

What is left? Pontiac as a community brand and a municipal entity remains, despite our property values and tax income being sliced in half in recent years. After 20,000 General Motors employees in the city were gone, we're still standing. The city's budgetary sources decimated by half and we are still standing, albeit with a staggered step. That is amazing. That speaks to how much institutional wealth and investment remained within, despite the decade of drastic cuts and budget-balancing attempts (as well as generations of waste and corruption). Pontiac has survived.

What is left? The people of Pontiac, which is the most important resource we hold. 60,000 fighters. 60,000 survivors. 60,000 mothers, daughters, sons, fathers. 60,000 agents for change.

What is left? Pontiac's status as the Oakland County government seat; the complex mostly remains within city borders and thousands of county residents work and visit the county complex day to day

What is left? The fact is we are Michigan's oldest inland settlement. No one can ever take away the historic steps taken generations ago by the families that established this community and grew this community over the centuries.

What is left? The lakes and waterways that provide unique natural abundance in our urban setting remain. The Clinton River still flows; the river that first generated the magnet for settlers and first generated our industry still runs beneath us, around us, for us. Not too many historic urban centers have the lakes we do, either through the state, country or globe.

What is left? My neighborhood was established along the banks of that river, with many homes built for the Slater family that ran the saw mill. The mill is gone, the riverbanks are gone, the dirt roads are gone, but the neighborhood and many of the neighborhoods through the city remain.

What is left? Richardson Park, an open green space that previously had the Clinton River winding through it like a snake, is still a mostly open green space. Paddock was named for the area where cows and other livestock grazed on those lush riverbanks. The cows are gone, but Paddock is left.

What is left? Scores of parkland and green space that would be the envy of many cities.

What is left? A municipal golf course, for now.

What is left? City hall, a marble and granite palace (of sorts) of a different era.

What else is left? The history that oozes through the marrow of our city remains and will forevermore. That same Richardson Park bears the name of two long-ago notable Pontiac citizens: A Union General in the Civil War and his brother, Pontiac's state representative who went on to be Michigan's Lieutenant Governor and later Governor of the Nebraska Territory. The men are gone, but their name remains and the mark they left faintly remains.

What is left? Oak Hill Cemetery is left. How many cities do you know that are in the burying business? Not many these days. Pontiac did. The beautiful, historic structures and the monuments to Civil War veterans and Pontiac founders remain in the hallowed grounds of Pontiac's cemeteries. Whether the land is held or managed by the city or a firm or anyone else, the cemetery is left.

What is left? More historic districts and neighborhoods than we know what to do with!

What is left? The Pontiac Silverdome, or at least the part that isn't silver or a dome, remains. The fact that the people of Pontiac raised that stadium and hosted the Detroit Lions for over three decades is a big deal. The fact that our city hosted the Superbowl is a big deal. The fact that Elvis Presley and so many other headline acts performed in our city is a big deal. The Pope came to Pontiac. That is a big deal. That legacy remains.

What is left? No more massive operational costs draining our city coffers for the Silverdome remain. Thank goodness for that. The property owner pays taxes and has publicly shared their plans to give the old place a new lease on life. Hope for the structure, if only slight, remains alive.

What is left? Less violent crime is left, from what I have experienced and read – and apparently according to recent crime statistics.

What is left? A municipal credit rating that has increased out of junk status by Fitch Ratings.

What is left? Some of the most affordable property taxes in Oakland County and Michigan.

What is left? Some of the most affordable housing stock in Oakland County and Michigan. In getting a new start on life, I bought my first home here for $1,800 cash. New roof, new siding, some remaining new windows. 1,100 square feet. $1,800 cash. This latest chapter for a true land of opportunity has emerged.

What is left? The reality that we were one the namesake of the only viable car companies named after a city – and cultivated generations as a successful car brand.

What is left? 3,500 General Motors employees at the GM Powertrain World Headquarters.

What is left? 400 additional GM employees and $200 Million dollars in new investment in our city.

What is left? A renovated 80,000 square foot downtown building, the largest city development in 30 years.

What is left? 46 new lofts, which means 46 or more new city income tax payers. That’s a big return yield.

What is left? A fresh market, coffee bar and fitness center. These new amenities are walking distance from my house. That is huge.

What is left? The most dynamic, historic downtown buildings in the county.

What is left? The first skyscraper in Oakland County.

What is left? The oldest city block in Oakland County.

What is left? The world's largest Haunted House.

What is left? The Michigan Movie Studio Complex.

What is left? The Ultimate Soccer Complex.

What is left? The winter extravaganza parade.

What is left? Our prime location and our Woodward Avenue frontage.

What is left? The Woodward Dream Cruise.

What is left? Planet Rock rock climbing facility

What is left? Prime proximity to Oakland University, Oakland Community College, Cooley Law School, and many more.

What is left? The prospect of Bloomfield Park's completion.

What is left? 18 new family homes built in Unity Park.

What is left? Increasing property values around the newly built homes.

What is left? Our independently owned and family business still hanging on.

What is left? Many active civic organizations and dozens of thriving places of worship.

What is left? The Pontiac Creative Arts Center, housed in the first library in Oakland County.

What is left? The Pontiac Public Library is a well-used resource and community space. The other morning I waited with 23 other people, 23 other people to get into the library as soon as they opened! That is a very popular destination.

What is left? Two community centers.

What is left? Multiple repurposed community centers.

What is left? The Pontiac General Hospital, then North Oakland Medical Center, now Doctors' Hospital of Michigan remains. It remains a large employer, generating city income taxes for the municipal coffers, and medical resource for residents.

What is left? The fact that our city has so many hospitals and medical centers remains. That is a blessing. Many communities crave the hospital beds located within our city limits. At this moment some healthcare moguls are likely plotting how to move them up and farther out into the suburban sprawl.

What is left? A smaller debt burden per capita is left, meaning each of our remaining residents are actually shouldering a reduced dollar amount of the city's debt obligations.

What is left? A more efficient and cost-effective number of polling locations appropriately distributed amongst the districts for their respective voting precincts. What is left? A city clerk whose office has done more with less and ensured Pontiac votes were not the last ones counted or reported to the county.

What is left? The Oakland Press remains headquartered in Pontiac and covering city matters as they see fit, when they see fit. Many Oakland County and Michigan communities have had sharp drops or elimination in local news coverage. But the paper base in Pontiac does remain!

What is left? Over 5,500 students are enrolled in the School District of the City of Pontiac. One remaining preschool carries the banner of Pontiac's district. Six remaining elementary schools carry the banner of Pontiac's district. One remaining middle school and one remaining high school carry the banner of Pontiac's public district.

Not all communities have a district bearing their community's title. Not all communities have local control of their district and decision-making. That remains for us, for now, if we choose to fight for it.

Not all communities get to reshape their evolving district to the degree that the citizens have reimagined and can yet reshape their district. A combined high school, a new mascot, new colors and a renewed lease on life were in store for a namesake high school of our illustrious city.

What is left? A new superintendent hired deliberately and selectively by the publicly elected school board. A new superintendent struggling to tackle intractable obstacles many decades in the making, to be sure, but one who with the remaining teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and volunteers forge ahead nonetheless. They are left.

At some schools in the district the average experience for the teaching staff is as high as 24 years. 24 years. For now, that institutional knowledge and professional skill remains. They are left.

The Pontiac High School Robotics Team won the Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association championship. The team will be competing in the FIRST robotics competition. Their lead coach is Mr. Mike Martus and founding partners and sponsors include GM Powertrain, Chrysler and Delphi (per the Pontiac School District website). Apparently no one successfully made those kids up and quit on the dreams for themselves, their team and their shared objective.

Our district has an adult education program, an International Technology Academy and a Special Education school. There remains the Pontiac Promise Zone, all vehicles for good and lasting improvement in the lives of students and their families. Those initiatives remain.

This only scratches the surface of what remains of Pontiac and in Pontiac.

The city continues. The brand remains. The people carry forward.

Cross-Posted at: http://pontiacpride.blogspot.com

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