More than 150 people gathered Thursday at the Rochester Community House to hear about the state of the city of Rochester.
"A lot of communities are in trouble, but Rochester always has been a beacon," said Oakland County Commissioner Jeff Matis, a former member of the Rochester City Council.
"You have done as good of a job as you could expect; all in all, Rochester is in really good shape."
Matis introduced Rochester Mayor Stuart Bikson, who offered several "good news" talking points during the city's fifth annual State of the City address.
- The city's retail vacancy is less than 5 percent.
- Building permits are up 62 percent since 2009.
- The city has "virtually no debt," and the city's finances are the "envy of other cities."
- Over the past five years, the city has cut expenses more than 25 percent while maintaining essential services. "We only spend money we actually have," Bikson said.
"I'm very optimistic that we are starting to see our economy turning around and I believe Rochester is really starting to prosper," the mayor said.
Bikson used part of his address to highlight what he called "a tiny little infrastructure program that's coming up," referring to the huge Main Street Makeover.
The reconstruction of Main Street officially begins Monday in the city.
"This is going to be the 'Full Monty' of reconstruction projects," he said.
Bikson outlined the timetable (the road will be fully closed to through-traffic starting in mid-May; it will be finished sometime this fall) and the funding sources (it's a joint project between the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation).
He then showed a photo of Main Street in the 1950s, during a previous reconstruction project.
"No, these are not the roads in Rochester Hills," he joked, while pointing to the photo. Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett was in attendance for the address.
Bikson made a point of stating that all downtown businesses are open for business.
Bikson singled out four businesses that have invested or reinvested in Rochester in the past year: Hibachi House (a new downtown restaurant), Leonor Dental (part of the Walnut Street transition district), Quantum Digital Ventures (a high-tech printing company) and JHP Pharmaceuticals (the city's largest employer, which is investing in a 40,000-square-foot addition).
Bikson also took time to address the recent budget impasse for the Older Persons' Commission; citing concerns about salaries and benefits, the city refused to approve the OPC budget earlier this year. "There are a few people in this community who are promoting the idea that our City Council wants to close down the Older Persons' Commission," Bikson said. "People need to stop making these ridiculous claims."
Bikson said the city has a fiscal responsibility to oversee and approve the OPC's budget.