Auburn Hills is One Stop Ready for new development

For 11 years, the former Showcase Cinema at 2150 Opdyke Road in Auburn Hills sat vacant and in disrepair. Developers eyed the property for years. Several expressed interest in buying and building on the parcel, but until this year none of them could agree to terms with the property’s owner, National Amusement.
That changed earlier in May when Novi-based Amson Dembs Development, Inc. purchased the land and derelict building, and announcing they would raze the building and develop a 21+ acre high-tech business park on the site.
“Our community envisioned a beautifully landscaped high-tech park for that property since the day the theater closed,” Auburn Hills Director of Community Development Steve Cohen wrote in a blog post about the project. He added in a phone conversation, “Obviously we’re excited for a dead site to come alive again.”
The state of Michigan announced the first tenant that will occupy one of two corporate headquarters that Amson Dembs is building. Auto supplier GKN (Driveline and Sinter Metals) will move from its current facility at 3300 University Drive in Auburn Hills to the new 168,056-square-foot building, bringing 300 employees and adding another 50.
Cohen says that GKN’s lease was coming due and it needed to expand. The company considered a new facility or moving its entire operation to North Carolina. Auburn Hills partnered with Oakland County to work with the developer and assure GKN the new site would be ready. “Auburn Hills has a track record of doing what we say,” Cohen says. “When we tell people that we’ll get them in quickly, all they have to do is talk to other developers to find out it’s true.”
The county helped expedite the process by working with utilities companies to get the building prepped for demolition, avoiding costly delays.
All of this came about because the economic development team at Auburn Hills makes it a point to visit community businesses to find out how they are doing, determine how the city can address a business’ needs. “If you aren’t courting them and talking to them, if you don’t meet their needs, they’re going to go somewhere that wants them,” Cohen says simply.
As one of Oakland County’s pilot participating One Stop Ready communities, which seeks to streamline the development process, Auburn Hills knows all too well how important it is to court new development and foster good relationships with existing businesses.
“A lot of people don’t realize the connection between development and the tax base,” Cohen says. “That means more police on the street, new roads, water and sewer [improvements].” Not to mention jobs. “We found that, as a community, customer service is key. [This is] our lifeblood.”
During the Great Recession, Auburn Hills-based Chrysler cut half of its employees almost overnight. After that, automotive suppliers and other manufacturing companies were forced to do the same. To weather the storm, the city learned to adapt.
“We know we need to be different and we want to be different,” says Cohen. “We want to be a place that exceeds the development community’s expectations. And it is as we build this tax base that we are able to provide services [like new roads and more police].”
The city prides itself on being a welcoming and accommodating place for development. In another blog post Cohen wrote, “A ton of jobs and tax revenue have been lost in Michigan since 2005, which has created a gaping hole in our budgets of lost money needed to provide the public services people have come to expect. Thus, we need to do a better job as a region to recruit and retain businesses. We must let companies know that they are wanted. Perhaps, first say ‘Thank You’ when someone decides to invest millions of dollars into your community and then work side-by-side to help them do it.”
Cohen continued: “It has become commonplace in Auburn Hills to see the world through the ‘eyes of a developer.’ We have found that they are not evil (most are very nice people) and that they create jobs and pay a lot of taxes, which helps us keep police officers on the street. Over the years, we have collaborated with hundreds of businesses to make a better community for everyone. It’s a smart game plan.”
He says that Auburn Hills feels very privileged to be a part of Oakland County’s One Stop Ready program and that more communities should participate.
“I feel that we do a lot of things right but we still have a lot more to learn,” he says. “It has been a very helpful program.”