Oak Park

'A city of yes,' Oak Park celebrates progress with plans for new hub, Juneteenth events

Public and city leaders gathered at City Hall for Oak Park’s annual State of the City address earlier this month, to unveil designs for the city's continued growth and plans for Juneteenth.

City manager Erik Tungate began by highlighting the changes in the city since the start of his tenure in 2012. Tungate read a quote from his first year in office where he mentioned the city’s deficit of $3.3 million during that period.

“I want you to contrast that with tonight,” Tungate said, “when I can announce that our new budget contains a 16.3% rainy day fund which equates to about $4.93 million to protect us from unforeseen circumstances.”

Martha MejiaErik Tungate reflects on his 12 years as City manager and the economic changes happening in the city.

In the last four years, the city's taxable value has nearly quadrupled from 2.47% in 2020 to a projected 9.66% in 2024. 

“This is the third year in a row where we continue to have the highest increase and highest rate in all of Oakland County. Needless to say, our new budget isn’t business as usual. It’s a testament to our progress and the path we made for the road ahead,” said Tungate.


New spaces revealed

The focal piece of Tungate’ speech was the unveiling of the renderings for the new event hub. This new recreational space, which will be located next to City Hall, was made possible by the city's Elevate Oak Park project and the recent proposals passed last November. 

“The event hub will include approximately 600 square feet of year-round event space. It will also include an amphitheater, memorial garden and pathways connecting to other municipal properties,” Tungate said.

Tungate mentioned another big change coming to the city: The renovation of David H. Shepard Park. Following the 2023 Interlocal Partnership Agreement, Oakland County Parks pledged a $3 million investment to improve the park.  

The newly renovated area will be called Oak Park Woods at Shepard Park. An accessible nature theme playground, new restrooms and further improvements to the pavilion and trails are a few of the changes planned. A design open house is planned for July 10 at 4:00 p.m. in Shelter 1 at Shepard Park. Construction is planned to begin in 2025.


Planting seeds for the future

Mayor Marian McClellan then took to the podium to deliver her remark and highlighted the theme of the evening: Growing our roots. 

“You don’t have to look hard to see that great things are happening in Oak Park. Many people played an important role in our growth,” McClellan said, “Thanks to [Tungate], city council and our staff our city is on solid ground.

Guests were given paper coasters with wildflower seeds. The mayor asked that residents plant them in their yards and join the city in “planting the seeds for the future”.

Martha MejiaMayor McClellan delivers the State of the City Address at City Hall.

McClellan announced the city's next big event, Juneteenth. 2024 marks the city's fourth year of celebrating the event and first year as an official city holiday. 

This year's theme will focus on the past, present and future. Looking back, there will be historian, Dr. Khalid el-Hakim from the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, who will present the origin and importance of the holiday. Crossing from the past to the present, there will be live music from the Back in the Day Band, a Greek yard show with step performances and a fashion show.

The final focus on the future will come from the children of the city. Students across Oak Park schools, from fifth grade and up, participated in a new scholarship contest, Juneteenth Expression. Students were asked to write essays, poetry, music or submit art about what Juneteenth meant to them. The 10 winners will be present at the event to talk about their pieces and be awarded scholarships. 

Juneteenth celebrations begin on June 19 at 4:00 p.m. at the Oak Park Public Library and Municipal Grounds. All events are open to the public.

The final surprise of the evening was the city's Office of Public Safety's new fire truck. In 2022, the city council approved the purchase of the new $1.3 million ladder fire truck.

Martha MejiaThe new truck has a ladder that can extend up to 107 feet.

Looking ahead

The mayor cited the Nine Mile Redesign in 2019, as one of the many milestones that has improved public space in the city and made it a regional model. It also led to the creation of the city’s first public art installations by local artists Dale Teachout, Foster Wiley and Dale Rogers.

Mayor McClellan spoke about how the city's transformation is tied to its investment in public spaces.

“With screens taking over our lives and folks working at home, with more national and international stress, it is ever more important that we come together as a community to play and celebrate. We need to focus on what unites us, not what divides us. That’s what public spaces do for us.”

Mayor McClellan ended her portion of the address by highlighting the city's investment in local business. According to the mayor, partnerships with Oakland Thrive and development in the Eleven Mile Water Tower Social District in 2018 have turned the city into a destination for new business.

“We are committed to improving economic development in Oak Park. We’ve attracted scores of new businesses to the city. We are not a city of no anymore, we are a city of yes. If you have a project, we will help you make it happen.”

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