(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Wanna buy a city hall? A library? A golf course? A cemetery? How about a fire station?
Financially troubled Pontiac -- perhaps foreshadowing what's in store for Detroit -- tried to tell its residents at a public hearing Tuesday that it was putting most of its assets up for sale.
But except for the mayor, the city's emergency manager, his assistant and a lone reporter, no one came.
"There's a long habit in Pontiac of having a difficult time getting people to show up," Mayor Leon Jukowski said. "The citizens know a lot of things are going up for sale, but they're not in the market to buy Lot 9, so they don't care."
Lot 9 is a sprawling and crumbling parking lot in the heart of downtown Pontiac. State-appointed emergency manager Louis Schimmel said a developer is interested in the property.
The list of property for sale fills three pages. Included are five fire stations, two cemeteries, two landfills, 11 water-pumping stations, two community centers, the public library and police station.
City officials are more determined to sell some of the properties, but Schimmel said that because he is required to hold a public hearing anytime the city has assets to sell, he might as well put everything on the list.
The city isn't prepared to turn over the keys to city hall or its police or fire facilities this week, but Schimmel said he wanted to put everything on the table. "We just want the option," he said. "We don't want to come back piece by piece."
Residents shouldn't see dramatic impact. If the Pontiac Municipal Golf Course sells, residents may see their $2-per-round discount vanish.
Parking rates in the city's 10 lots on the list might increase. And seniors might have fewer places to gather if the community centers are sold.
But Pontiac is desperate. An emergency manager was named in March 2009. Since then, the budget has been cut from $58 million to $38 million, but a $12-million budget deficit remains.
The scale of the required cutbacks is dwarfed by Detroit, which needs to cut $330 million from a $1.2-billion budget.
Other Michigan cities where emergency managers were named to try to balance the books include Ecorse, Benton Harbor and Flint. Detroit Public Schools also has a manager.
With expanded powers, Schimmel, as Pontiac's third emergency manager, has plans for drastic changes to right the city's books.
He doesn't know how much money, if any, the fire sale would net and what impact it would have on the budget. But the city's two cemeteries alone -- one of which is in Independence Township -- require an annual $450,000 subsidy, he said.
He can't sell the cemeteries -- Oak Hill and Ottawa Park -- without a change in state law. If he can't get it, he hopes to at least privatize the operations.
Pontiac lost out years ago on its biggest opportunity to sell a city asset -- the Silverdome, the former home of the Detroit Lions -- when elected officials turned down a $20-million offer in 2005. They sold it at auction for $583,000 in 2009.
Detroit, which owns nearly 60,000 residential properties -- both vacant land and homes -- could have quite the sale if the state's current financial review leads to Gov. Rick Snyder naming an emergency manager.
Land experts doubt that there will be a great clamor for property in Pontiac or other distressed cities.
"Generally speaking, a municipal building probably would have little value to a developer," said Wayne State University law school professor John Mogk, who specializes in land-use issues. "Unless there's a way that the asset can generate some profit."
That might be the case for the city's golf course or parking lots, Mogk said.
But Steve Morris, a finance instructor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, said there's little available cash for developers to borrow for speculative projects.
"There is little demand or ability for people to develop just about anywhere in Michigan," he said. "Certainly, you're seeing a lot of excitement and new things happening in the heart of Detroit. But you need to have demand drivers for those to work."
He cited Quicken Loans' move to Detroit with 3,000 jobs.
"So there's some demand in Detroit," Morris said. "But the large unemployment number is going to affect lenders. The cost to build new apartments does not result in people being able to afford them."
And the interest in Pontiac seems nonexistent. No one from the general public and none of the seven City Council members, who lost any authority when an emergency manager was named, showed up to discuss the sale.
"At least two of the council members have day jobs. I'm not sure about the rest of them," Jukowski said. "And the man on the street doesn't have much of an opinion on this."
Anyone interested in the property can call 248-758-3128 during normal business hours.
Detroit Free Press