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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Saline Mayor's State of the City

Note: This is Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell's State of the City, delivered at Monday's City Council meeting:

State of the City, July 2008

It is an honor to have the opportunity to report on the state of affairs of our fine city. Saline was recognized as one of the Top 100 small cities last year as well as in 2005 by Money magazine. While we have many reasons to be proud of our community we also have work to do, to sustain and improve our success as a community. In this address I will outline some of the reasons we have received recognition as a great place to live, work and play, and future areas of improvement.

To be competitive in the 21st century cities must have a strong sense of place and a community of engaged citizens. Research has shown that attracting the entrepreneurial knowledge worker in our global economy requires a vibrant downtown and an excellent quality of life. The history of our community has a strong track record in both areas.

Our built environment has great “bones”. Our central business district of 19th century buildings provides a unique backdrop for dining, shopping and entertainment. The streetscape work that was accomplished in the 1980’s was visionary and very much needed at the time. The city started creating ‘third places’ for people to loiter. We have more opportunities, as was shown in the ppt, to improve our downtown’s physical infrastructure.

Michigan Avenue continues to be somewhat of a barrier to walkability, a highly desirable trait of a successful city. However the activity that travels on this road is vital to our downtown. How do we take advantage of what many see as a liability? We have an updated downtown master plan which is available for viewing on our city website, . Improvements include medians, more landscaping and improved crossings that will be implemented with the reconstruction by MDOT in 2013. In the meantime, the city can focus on areas like pocket parks, public art, public gathering places, a pavilion area and additional cross walks. Wireless connectivity, comfortable gathering spots and opportunities to interact with your neighbors on a daily basis provide an important social net for today’s lifestyle.

In the future we will continue to develop off of the center of town, creating a more complete commercial district. To meet the needs of the changing downtown environment, recommended as a mixed use of retail, office and residential we will be studying the implementation of a form based code. This technique allows us to be prescriptive by using a regulating plan that designates appropriate form and scale (or character) for development. It defines shape, not use, and is recognized as an excellent tool for downtown redevelopment.

Another challenge that the city will be considering this next year is planning for future growth on the west side of our current city limits. We have been in discussion with Saline Township for several years relative to the Biltmore residential development and other properties on our common border. We have recognized the need for developing an urban growth area for our future. While it may seem paradoxical to be discussing future development in these economic times, we have a timeline established by court referendum regarding the Biltmore property. The impacts on our infrastructure need to be fully understood and our goal is to address long term future development at the same time. This will be challenging as demographics are changing significantly and only 25% of households are predicted to be families. While our community will probably have a higher percentage due to our excellent schools we need to recognize the needs of our aging population and the younger nontraditional households that have differing transportation and living requirements than we currently provide.

What else promotes a sense of place? A healthy park system. Somewhere you can recreate and relax with friends and family. Cultural resources like our museums, our library, and our art center. Historic homes that retain their architectural integrity over time. Community events where friends and neighbors come together to relax and restore their connectedness to one another.

This community is very fortunate to have all of these resources, and more, due to a supportive and engaged citizenry. Our city commissioners, all volunteers, are very active in planning and providing for our community.

Our parks commissioners plan for the future of our parks and greenways. Currently an interpretive trail (Max Adler) in Curtiss Park is being upgraded for accessibility. This trail already has markers identifying many of the horticultural assets along the trail. Additionally, the commissioners host an annual park clean up day in the spring. They also recently completed a study of Brecon Park, to determine the needed improvements to this neighborhood asset. Additionally, there are ongoing conversations regarding a Saline River greenway.

Our parks and environmental commission held a joint planning session to address collaborative opportunities. One outcome is the award of a Clean Michigan grant in the amount of $75,000. There will be significant reconstruction of the waterfront along Mill Pond park that will help with erosion issues and also improve wear and tear at the dog park.

Our environmental commission has developed a website,, to assist our citizenry in becoming more environmentally aware and active. With the Youth Council’s assistance, storm drains were labeled to prevent dumping of toxic materials in our rivers. The commission also worked with the engineering department to develop storm gardens like the one on Old Creek Drive.

The historic district commission is responsible for approving design and improvements in three historic districts, W Henry St., S. Ann Arbor St, & N Ann Arbor St. Walk through these districts and you will see homes that have been beautifully renovated and several that are works in progress. These districts provide an opportunity to access state tax credits to offset renovation costs. The commissioners are also gearing up for special workshops to assist commercial and residential property owners with maintenance and preservation of their historic property.

The youth council is a 13 member body responsible for making Saline a better place for teens. They have been very active group coordinating fundraising activities, doing local volunteer work and providing opportunities for teens. This past year they have developed a monthly mentoring program at the Rec Center for middle schoolers and are currently focusing their energies on creating a Teen Center. Both of these ideas address a significant need in our community and we are fortunate to have such an active visionary youth council.

Our economic development boards have been addressing how we market our city and what makes us unique. We have developed a marketing committee to focus on German businesses since we have a core of highly successful German owned businesses, Liebherr, Thyssen Krupp and Scherer Trier. We plan to leverage this resource to bring in additional business.

The downtown development board (BDA) is in the process of receiving proposals for a marketing/branding program for our downtown. Many of our storefronts are vacant and we need to identify our assets and bring them to the forefront. Additionally, the summer concert series has been expanded to present regional talent and hometown favorites almost every Friday night. In conjunction with the concerts, the 212 Arts Center will be hosting the second One Night Art Stand on August 15th. Partnering with the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Merchants Association has enabled this unique area of our city to provide monthly events of significance. Look for the Saline Summerfest, Aug 9 & 10, and Harvest of the Arts/Oktoberfest on Sept 27.

Our own Celtic Festival, celebrated this past weekend, had many different venues for music, dance, and historic reenactments. The media attention on this event was outstanding, including Fox2 news spending Friday morning in town, promoting not just the festival, but the community as a whole. Thousands of people came to Saline to participate in the array of entertainment alternatives.

All these activities would not be possible without the support of our citizenry. The time and talent that is contributed to our community is phenomenal. Volunteering builds relationships and contributes significantly to the success of our community.

Saline is fortunate to be in a relatively healthy financial position in this economy. We have $2.5M (approximately 25% of annual expenditures) in our fund balance and we were able to maintain our millage rate. Several businesses in our business parks are expanding significantly. The offer for purchase of the ACH plant by Johnson Controls is progressing, which would address a significant source of revenue.

We have institutions in this town that are ranked nationally. Our local hospital received an award for being a Top 100 hospital and the emergency room consistently ranks in the 99th percentile on customer satisfaction. Our school system is ranked nationally in the top 5% of high schools and we are 30th in the state. We have a newly expanded library with more opportunities for lifelong learning. We have the regional assets of Ann Arbor and Detroit.

We have core strengths to build on. This is why Money magazine ranked us in the Top 100 small cities two of the last three years. But now we are competing globally for talent, for entrepreneurs, and innovative businesses; we need to raise the bar. To this end the city will be convening a town hall meeting in the fall. We want to hear from our citizens of all ages, our business owners and our community volunteers. What are your ideas for creating a successful Saline in the 21st century? I challenge each of you to ponder this over the next few months. Ask your friends in other states and other countries, ask your neighbors. Most importantly, find a way to participate in the process.

In summary, Saline continues to thrive as a great place to live, work and play because of you. City council and our city employees are dedicated to serving and improving our community. Thank you for your contributions, from the past and for the future.

Mayor Gretchen Driskell
July 14, 2008



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