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Pontiac's crisis, like Detroit's, leads to call for renewal

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Downtown Pontiac. The city has major financial problems. The emergency manager of Pontiac wants to void a contract with the city's police dispatcher's union.

Pontiac may be emerging from emergency management, but it's still far from a thriving city.

The city lost thousands of auto jobs before and during the recession, and has fewer than 60,000 residents.

Abandoned homes, schools and industrial buildings abound.  

Soon, Oakland County will hire a consultant to develop a revitalization plan for the city.

Bret Rasegan is with the Oakland County Development office. 

He says Pontiac is important to the county, in the same way that Detroit is important to southeast Michigan.

"It (Pontiac) is the county seat," says Rasegan.  "It has some great neighborhoods, some great architecture in the downtown, and it's a very passionate city."

Rasegan says it's likely any redevelopment plan will build on the city's traditional industry, by redeveloping former industrial lots, as well as encourage the growth of newer high-tech start ups, that are attracted by the low rents, well-lit loft spaces, and downtown location in Pontiac.

And, he suspects any plan to fix the city will have to include converting the one-way Woodward Loop circling Pontiac to a two-way road.

"It's fairly fast moving traffic, and it's very difficult for pedestrians to cross, and if you want to go downtown and you miss your turnoff, you've got to do the whole thing again and find your way back," says Rasegan.

Oakland County will use an $80,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to develop the plan.   The county will match the funds with $35,000 worth of county staff time.  

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.