Royal Oak will negotiate a contract with an event promoter now that the city commissioners have electrical facilities OK to power its proposed ice rink in the city’s downtown park.
Commissioners on Monday approved spending a total of $154,000 to pay DTE Energy and an electrical contractor to install power lines, a transformer and other infrastructure to power the proposed rink.
With Mayor Michael Fournier absent from Monday’s meeting, commissioners voted 4-2 on the power contract.
The city commission is now expected to vote on a contract with developer Jon Witz on September 26. Witz is producing Arts, Beats and Eats, a new Winter Blast festival, and a few other events around town.
City Commissioner Patricia Paruch, who led the task force that designed the new Centennial Commons downtown park, opposes the rink.
She made an unsuccessful motion to delay approval of the electrical work contract on Monday, saying it would weaken the city’s negotiating position with Witz.
“At this point, this (power contract) is being pushed because of the rink and Mr. Witz,” Paruch said. “We need to have a contract (with Witz) in place before we vote” on electrical work.
A majority of more than 200 people who responded to Paruch’s social media post about the project opposed the rink’s presence on Centennial Commons.
The commission and many residents are split over the proposal, which would occupy about a third of the park’s green space from November through early February. Each spring, it will take about a month to re-grass the rink area, which cannot be used by visitors during this time.
City staff and the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board earlier opposed the rink proposal. So far, the majority of city commission members, including the mayor, support the installation of the rink, and city staff have worked to make it happen.
It seems likely that the rink will gain approval as long as the majority of the commission stands.
A secondary incentive for providing the park with upgraded power lines is that they can provide power for future events at Centennial Commons.
appeared in a post early Monday on a community Facebook page sought residents’ input on electrical work approvals prior to negotiating a contract with Witz.
“We are far apart at this point on a number of details, including financial contributions from Witz and the city,” she wrote in the post.
Still, the skating rink proposal and electrical hookups are popular with other residents and downtown businesses. Some of them spoke at Monday’s meeting.
“I think of (the park) as a place for music,” said musician James Robinett. “The (electric) upgrade of the ice rink and other upcoming events would be fantastic for the city.”
Alan Kroll, chairman of the board of directors of the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce, said the improved power supply to the park and the visitors for the events held there are highly valued by businesses.
“When we ask members (of the chamber) what they want, they ask for more foot traffic,” he said.
Witz moved Arts, Beats and Eats from Pontiac to Royal Oak in 2010. Since then, he has hosted three other large-scale annual events in the city.
A few years ago the city approved a Rock ‘n’ Rides carnival event with live music. Last year, it held its first Winter Blast event downtown that drew 80,000 people, and the city approved a Taco Fest this summer that drew 60,000 people.
For the Winter Blast festival, an ice rink has been set up in the west parking lot of the Farmers Market.
Witz said the proposed skating rink in the park is more of a passion project born out of Winter Blast than a business venture.
If the rink is built, Witz would have the exclusive right to use it at future Winter Blast festivals. In exchange, he would operate the rink at no cost to the city from November until early February, when Winter Blast takes place.
Apart from the electrical equipment installation costs borne by the city, it will be unclear how much Royal Oak will pay annually for the rink until a contract with Witz is finalized.
People who use the rink while it is in operation before the Witz Winter Festival will have to pay $10 to skate on the rink, and skate rentals will cost $5.
Some residents have suggested the city build a skating rink in another park instead. Others questioned the city’s support for Witz-hosted events in downtown Royal Oak.
During public comments on Monday, owner and downtown resident William Harrison asked why the city commission supported Witz’s ice rink proposal.
“I don’t understand why you keep denying expert advice (from city staff) and the DTE,” Harrison said. “I just don’t understand what sort of hold (Witz) has on you.”
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