The Phoenix Center and Ottawa Towers
“…. The key issue before the Court today is whether the Constitution matters. It does.”
– Judge Michael Warren
If you have been to downtown Pontiac, your view would have included the Phoenix Center Parking Deck & Plaza with its distinctive white canopies, and the two adjoining Ottawa Towers office buildings. They are focal points of the Pontiac skyline and the heart of downtown Pontiac.
The Ottawa Towers were rescued by their current owners from foreclosure and a dire, vacant future. The owners purchased the towers, along with a recorded easement that provides the owners with rights in the adjacent Phoenix Center. After paying more than a million dollars in delinquent taxes in addition to monies to purchase the Towers, the Towers’ owners invested more than a million dollars into each Tower to repair and update them to attract new tenants. The owners wished to see the Towers bustling with new tenants and a renewed vibrancy in Pontiac. To date, through the owners’ investments and exhaustive efforts, one Tower is occupied by more than 200 State of Michigan employees, with more soon to follow. All of them park in the Phoenix Center parking deck. This is exactly the type of investment and dedication that Pontiac needs. Instead of greeting the owners with enthusiasm, Pontiac’s former Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Louis Schimmel and then-Mayor Leon Jukowski embarked on a campaign to trample upon the owners’ property rights so that they could demolish the Phoenix Center.
The reasons stated by these various public officials for why the Phoenix Center must be demolished have always been without merit. The Phoenix Center is not a dangerous or dilapidated structure. Instead, the Phoenix Center needs ordinary cleaning and repairs that are the result of deferred maintenance and abandonment by the City. The Towers’ owners have expended significant funds and efforts to rescue the Phoenix Center from its apparent “orphan status.” Financially, the Phoenix Center can remain at zero cost to Pontiac because the owners’ of the Towers have offered to take full financial responsibility for repairs, maintenance, security, insurance, lighting and operation of the Phoenix Center. Indeed, as a direct result of the Towers’ owners’ efforts to clean and repair the lighting fixtures and provide steady electrical service, in early July Orchard Lake Road was re-opened underneath the Phoenix Center for the first time in years.
Due to the ongoing public threats from various government actors that they intended to demolish the Phoenix Center without any regard for the rights of the owners of the Towers, the Towers’ owners were forced to file a lawsuit. This lawsuit was stayed following the City of Pontiac’s filing of a condemnation action against the Towers, notwithstanding an admitted lack of funds to pay fair market value to those holding interests in the Phoenix Center. According to the United States and Michigan Constitutions, the owners of the Towers have the right to own and possess the Towers, and their related easement in the Phoenix Center, without suffering harm from their own government. Under any version of the emergency manager laws, neither the EFM nor those he designates to act in his stead have the authority to condemn easement rights, demolish public buildings like the Phoenix Center, or cause damage to others without paying for it. The Towers were granted an injunction to halt the demolition and to prevent interference with the use of the Phoenix Center by the Towers, such injunction remaining in place today.
The Towers’ owners seek a solution. They have offered to take full responsibility for the Phoenix Center so that the millions of dollars that is earmarked for its demolition can be used for Pontiac’s other considerable needs. Isn’t there a better use for millions of dollars in Pontiac?