’21 shaping up to bring ‘robust’ progress to City of Swartz Creek

SWARTZ CREEK — As the new year dawns, it ushers in the promise of great progress in the City of Swartz Creek.

“It will be an interesting year,” said City Manager Adam Zettel. “In some respects, we are very pleased and optimistic with where we are. Despite everything, we still anticipate big changes that are positive.”

The community’s parks and recreation offerings will undergo perhaps the greatest transformation.

“The recreation improvements are massive, with profound regional impact,” he said.

The city has received about $1 million in grants to help pay for the extension of the Genesee Valley Trail from Flint Township to Elms Park, and is now poised to begin the construction process – finally – after about four years of preparation.

“That’s a big deal,” said Zettel. “There may be some delays on that just because of the bidding timeline and trying to coordinate all three (grants), but we should be able to start those projects.”

City officials also expect to have the disc golf course ready for play on Bristol Road, just west of the GM facility. The land recently was dubbed Otterburn Park, in honor of the whistle-stop that once existed in the area. (Some old-timers may recall referring to the GM facility as the Otterburn plant, as well.)

Infrastructure also remains a focal point going into 2021.

Work will continue on Oakview and Chelmsford drives, which will receive both road improvements and water main upgrades, as well as Bristol and Morrish roads, where water main work will take place.

“It’s going to be kind of a crazy year,” Zettel remarked. “We will be spending a lot of taxpayer dollars, but a lot of grant money, too.”

That includes about $4.5 million in grants and bond money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which goes toward the water main work.

In January, the city will award the engineering contract for a federally-funded project to rehabilitate Morrish Road between Bristol and Miller roads. Deep mill and resurface work should begin in 2022.

“That’s what’s already in the pipeline, the stuff we’re very happy about,” Zettel said.

City officials remain optimistic about seeing some movement at the former Sports Creek Raceway, and they expect the new owners will begin reinvesting in that property by the end of 2021.

“We will be working with them to repurpose the site if things don’t work out with racing,” Zettel said. “They want to make it productive and make it an economic benefit for the region.”

In terms of potential redevelopment and job creation, the next incarnation of the raceway will weigh heavily as the Planning Commission and City Council revisit the city’s Master Plan.

The central business district will get a little more attention, as well.

“We do have a lot of movement downtown,” Zettel said. “While some longtime businesses have moved on, closed or their owners retired, we’re seeing a whole new generation of local ownership, stewardship and innovation.”

The old Assenmacher/ Lovegrove building is under new ownership, and plans to transform the building are “robust,” Zettel said. In addition, business owners Dawn and Erik Jamison continue to improve the properties they have acquired. The Jamisons own Great Lakes Smoothie Co., Hank and Don’s bar, the former library/Trecha building on Holland Drive, and the adjacent house.

There is considerable interest in repurposing the building previously occupied by Dave’s Pizzeria.

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls about some very interesting hospitality businesses there,” Zettel said.

Throughout the forward movement, concerns about the economy and the effect of the pandemic remain.

“We worry about the economy,” Zettel said. “We worry about people’s wellbeing. There is some uncertainty there. We are navigating very carefully. We obviously have great concerns about the fiscal integrity of Michigan and cities. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.

“So, we are proactively tightening our general fund budget belt, anticipating we will see flat or decreasing taxable values, reductions in state revenue sharing. It is worth noting, however, that all signs indicate a robust local economy.”

The city is aptly positioned to weather the cloud of economic uncertainty.

“Part of our goal going through the budget season is to be frugal and thoughtful about our position in the world,” Zettel said. “If things work out, that’s awesome. If not, it’s a good thing we planned. I think one of our goals is to be one of the most efficient cities in the state. And I think we’ve shown that. We’ve paid off debts, and taken on beneficial bonds and partnerships.

“To be able to invest in streets, water main and economic development … that will all make the community a better place in future. Doing so without having crippling debt or massive operational costs is a good thing. I think they’ve been able, behind the scenes, to grapple with debt while still making sound investments.”