Dispute Keeps Amtrak Passengers in the Cold

A dispute over land ownership is keeping Amtrak passengers in Troy, Mich., from using a brand new intermodal station.

The $6.3 million station was completed last November, but remains closed as a question of who owns the land underneath the center is worked out.

Amtrak passengers, in the meantime, have to use a nearby bus stop type shelter. Riders on a SMART bus line also must wait at shelter along Maple Road.

The transit center sits behind a shopping center near Maple and Coolidge Highway, but a judge has ruled that the city of Troy, which built the transit center, does not own the land upon which it was built.

“It’s a shame people have to stand outside in the cold when there is a perfectly good building across the tracks,” said Troy Mayor Dane Slater.

The just ruled that the land on which the transit center is situated belongs to developer Grand/Sakwa Properties, the owner of the Midtown Square shopping center surrounding the transit center.

Although he never supported building the transit center, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Henderson says the city must get the land somehow, whether that is through an agreement with Grand/Sakwa or through condemning the property.

“I didn’t vote for it, but I’m 100 percent behind it now,” said Henderson. “From a community standpoint, we have to try to do whatever it takes to make it work, because otherwise we will have wasted a lot of money.”

In February, Oakland County Circuit Judge Leo Bowman dismissed the city’s lawsuit against Grand/Sakwa, affirming the developer’s ownership of the land.

Troy has been trying for more than 13 years to open a transit center on the site.

Troy partnered with Birmingham on the transit project in 2000, when Grand/Sakwa donated the land with the condition that the money for the transit center be secured by 2010. Birmingham later backed out.

Troy secured an $8.4 million federal grant, but the developer says the money was not acquired before the deadline, meaning the land reverted back to the developer.

In the lawsuit, the city offered to pay Grand/Sakwa $550,000 for the 2.7-acre site. That amount comes from a 2010 appraisal of the land that was completed before the transit center was built.

In a response filed in court, Grand/Sakwa says its concerns go beyond how much the land is worth.

The developer says Troy has not provided the “resources necessary to properly operate and maintain” the transit center.

“Troy’s (projection) for the transportation center shows 167 buses accessing each day the transportation center by crossing Grand/Sakwa’s parking lot,” the document says. “Troy has not provided any analysis or plan of action as to how this traffic situation would ever function and how it would mitigate the substantial impact and interference with the commercial tenants’ businesses at the shopping center or on the access and use of the shopping center by their customers.”

The next step for Troy, said City Attorney Lori Grigg-Bluhm, will be to conduct a new appraisal of the land. The city voted in November to set aside $1.8 million toward purchasing the land if necessary.

“Every federal grant is done on a reimbursement basis. We pay and they reimburse,” Grigg-Bluhm said. “However, we would have assurances that if we spend the money, there will be a reimbursement.”

If the developer agrees to a deal, the litigation will be settled. If not, the city would file a lawsuit to condemn the land.

“There is no plan to demolish the transit center,” said Grigg-Bluhm. “If necessary, a condemnation case would settle the issue of legal title of the real property.”

The 28,000-square-foot transit center was completed last fall and was meant to replace the Amtrak station just across the tracks in Birmingham.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail line can’t sign a lease with Troy until the city owns the property.

“We look forward to a resolution and moving into the Troy transportation center,” he said.

Amtrak said the Birmingham stop served 23,257 Amtrak riders in 2013 and 19,712 riders in 2012 on the six Wolverine Service trains that operate between Pontiac and Chicago.

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