Is Bloomfield Park, Oakland County's spectacular urban ruin, about to be reclaimed?
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says a deal is in the works to transfer the 90-acre property from bank foreclosure into the hands of a private developer.
In an interview a few hours before he was injured in a car crash Friday, Patterson — who mocks the unfinished complex as "Stonehenge" — says that Oakland County has been a participant in the not-yet-concluded sale "that will put the property back on the tax rolls and into productive use."
Of course, his optimism may ultimately prove as premature as developer Craig Schubiner's a decade ago, when he touted a billion dollar-plus plan to transform the Telegraph Road site at the Bloomfield Township and Pontiac boundary into a shop-and-live playground for the Bloomfield elite.
Instead of revitalizing Pontiac and the northern tip of Bloomfield Township, the project became an Oakland County embarrassment when developers backed out — and workers abruptly stopped building in November 2008. Since then, Bloomfield Park has been a powerful engine of job creation — but mostly for the lawyers.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed and mostly settled. But Oakland County Judge Michael Warren is now presiding over Schubiner's lawsuit, on behalf of the Bloomfield Park owners, against his New York and Cleveland-based partners, seeking at least $200 million in damages.
Today, the project's beams and girders are still oxidizing in the summer sun, as eye-high grasses provide cover for rabbits, snakes and groundhogs who gambol on the 93-acre site.
Although several buildings in this mini-city were framed, and some foundations are still clad in marble, even the construction contractors lost money — they settled last year for pennies on the dollar.
Schubiner claims partners Developers Diversified Realty Corp. and Coventry II DDR violated their contract with him when they shut down the project prematurely in late 2008, at a time when leases had been signed and the project was still viable.
The developers contend the project failed, but not through any fault of their own. Meanwhile, another entity, MV Bloomfield LLC, has sued to replace Schubiner as plaintiff. The case has been delayed so long that some of the testimony shown in court last week was taped in 2010.
Now a jury is hearing testimony about lease agreements, commercial signage, and the lengthy political and economic history of a development that's become Oakland County's icon of dreams gone bust.
Last week, former Barnes & Noble real estate executive Anne Mendez described how the site fit the "rich in mind, rich of pocket demographic" that the bookseller sought for its stores.
Even in November 2008 Mendez said the chain looked forward to a spring 2009 opening.
Brooks Patterson's news that the county's real estate debacle may be sold sounds like a breakthrough — and perhaps it is.
But given the complexities and uncertainties of ownership, don't expect fast action. For a new developer to wrap up a sale and get construction crews back to work, you'd have to first banish all the lawyers.