Our Good News Story, by Mayor Barnett

“People still love a good story, and I don’t think that will change.”

Those are the words of Robert Iger, Executive Chairman of Disney, who retires at the end of 2021. Everyone who knows me knows my love for Disney and my admiration for Mr. Iger as a leader. He’s had a great run. 

We share a love for good stories: Telling them, hearing them and experiencing them. 

And now, as another year closes, we have an opportunity to add to our own story – to reflect on our immediate past.

While we continue to write a chapter about facing adversity, allow me to share our good news story for 2021.

Mayor Bryan K. Barnett - photo by Michael Dwyer
Mayor Bryan K. Barnett – photo by Michael Dwyer

Let me begin with the success of the Auburn Road Corridor. A massive group effort that began more than five years ago concluded with the opening of this new stretch of road in our oldest neighborhood, the Brooklands. It includes a safer experience for motorists and pedestrians, the City’s first splash pad, public art, new commercial and residential development and the highest percentage increase in property value in Rochester Hills. To top it all off, the Michigan Municipal League recently named it the most transformative project in the State of Michigan for 2021.  

Just a few miles to the north, the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm celebrated its 198th year with a Grand Re-Opening. We completed construction on a new roof for the Dairy Barn, opened up the new Equipment Barn (built to the exact dimensions and on the exact location of the original structure in 1924) and premiered new exhibits inside the Milk House and Bull Barn. 

The Museum’s permanent exhibits are in place and programming has returned to near normal. If you haven’t visited this gem in our community lately, please do.

We’re continuing to invest in our roads because you tell us it’s a priority. That has meant a $30 million investment in just the last two years on major roads like John R, Livernois, Auburn and Hamlin, as well as on local streets in neighborhoods, paid for through grants and our capital improvement budget. 

Work on massive projects like that in the Avon/Dequindre intersection started this year and will continue, in coordination with the Road Commission of Oakland Country, the Great Lakes Water Authority, Macomb County, and Shelby Township.

Public safety is perennially the number one strategic priority of the City and our City Council. We’re thankful to have been named the Safest City in Michigan for a city our size for the past five years. Let me say that again.  There is no safer city to raise your family in the entire State of Michigan then Rochester Hills and we greatly appreciate the strong partnership we have with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. 

I’m pleased to report that the City’s budget is in great shape, despite the recent challenges of the pandemic. We continue to operate with a structural surplus, a three year budget and seven year financial forecast. 

In terms of economic vitality, the City entered the Covid era with a 98% occupancy rate (combined commercial, industrial, and retail) and we’re currently at a 97% occupancy rate.  Meaning that despite the intense challenges, we continue to be the place in southeast Michigan for business and residential investment.

Our parks remain extremely popular and a major reason why people live here. We saw a 300% increase in park attendance between 2019 and 2020 and another 30% increase from 2020 to 2021.

We opened up the first phase of the playground at Innovation Hills to rave reviews and attendance. Within the first four weeks of opening, a posting on Little Guide Detroit received 2,200 likes/loves/wows and over 4,500 shares.

And the comments: “What an amazing park!” “We made the 1.5 hour drive and it was definitely worth it.” “Innovation Hills is the largest playground we’ve ever been to – and we’ve been to a lot of playgrounds. Call a friend and schedule a playdate because you’ll want to visit this park.”

Importantly, in November, our residents confirmed their financial support of our parks by voting in favor of repurposing an expiring millage for the Older Persons’ Commission (OPC) building in favor of improving our parks by a 3 to 1 margin. We sincerely thank you.

Finally, let me tell you that we are blessed to live in a community of remarkable leaders – leaders in our local school systems and universities, leaders in business and nonprofit organizations, leaders of our faith communities. And I am personally thankful for the partnership we have with members of the Rochester Hills City Council.

Robert Iger is right. People still love a good story and I never grow old sharing ours. Despite significant adversity, 2021 didn’t disappoint. And I thank each and every one of you for being a part of it. May God bless you all and continue to bless our city. 

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