Knuckling Down, Sprucing Up, and Growing Better Each Day

City of Westland, Michigan
Written by Pauline Muller

Like the Middle River Rouge running through Hines Park in the City of Westland, prosperity and positive change are flowing into this lush, 22-square-mile town.

As many American cities battle their way toward economic growth, the City of Westland in central Wayne County, Michigan is transforming as its growing diversity, hard work, and determination turn the region into a flourishing urban haven. With time, energy, and money pouring in from its team of economic developers and other stakeholders investing in its future, the city is harnessing the drive and energy of its multicultural populace. As its entry-level urban housing market expands through new builds, it’s also becoming the ideal city for those starting out or downsizing in life.

Flanked to the north by the City of Livonia, to the south by the City of Wayne, and to the west by Canton Township, the City of Westland is proud to call itself an inclusive community.

During my conversation with Aubrey Merhib, Economic Development Director, and Michael P. Londeau, Mayor, it quickly becomes evident that revitalization and redevelopment are top priorities. Alongside this, the team is committed to bringing more talent to the area to support its goal of growth and prosperity for the region.

Home to nearly 86,000 people, Westland is the smallest of Michigan’s top ten largest cities. Setting up shop here is eased by an economic development team ready to invigorate its prospects.

“We promise to provide a business-friendly, expedited approval process in an effort to help developments and expansions get started and become reality,” says Merhib, who ascribes her team’s enthusiasm and efficacy to the mix of talented young blood and seasoned public-sector professionals combining their energy, knowledge, and skills for the benefit of the region.

“It’s one thing to say you’re a business-friendly community, but if you don’t have the right people in key places, you won’t get very far,” she says. “There’s a lot of talent here and a lot of passion.”

Responsible for the development, implementation, and maintenance of the city’s economic development plans, and for ensuring that Westland not only attracts but also retains business, Merhib has also grown the department over the past year, with an approach that is practical yet modern.

By empowering his team and encouraging them to collaborate and voice their thoughts openly, Mayor Londeau has established a citywide culture of trust and healthy teamwork. All this fits well alongside a large part of his citywide mandate: revitalizing the region and the lifestyle it offers.

A background as a City Council member gives Mayor Londeau the knowledge needed to build and maintain the networks of key role players that are pivotal to the economic well-being of the city at large. “Businesses can have faith that when they choose to work with the city of Westland, we won’t allow politics to get in the way of progress,” he says.

Westland offers a good variety of business premises and a legendary workforce widely respected for its skill. Just 20 minutes from Detroit’s harbor, Westland is easily accessible, making transportation of goods and business travel a cinch. With easy access to the I-94 and I-96, Westland is only 7 and 10 miles away from Detroit Metro and Willow Run airports, respectively.

While many towns across America have interesting histories, Westland has perhaps one of the rarest stories around—especially for its age. Originally, the area’s earliest infrastructure was established in what is known today as the Norwayne Historic District to house tradesmen, engineers, and others building bombers at Willow Run Airport during World War II. But then the city developed a life of its own sometime during the ‘60s.

With old-fashioned malls morphing into more urban-friendly arrangements as a relatively new trend, this city was undeniably ahead of its time when, in 1963, residents decided to establish independence from the city of Livonia, which is said to have set its sights on annexing an area of Nankin Township, just over 20 miles from Detroit, part of which was earmarked for a new shopping center to be built in response to Detroit’s growing sprawl at that time. This move proved a mistake on Livonia’s part as residents rallied in protest and got to work opposing the motion.

Westland’s incorporation was made official on May 16, 1966. It was decided to name it after the famous, state-of-the-art mall designed by Austrian-born Victor Gruenthat, famed for being the doyen of the modern shopping center. And so, the city of Westland was born and its central business district developed with the mall as its heartbeat. “Westland is special,” says Mayor Londeau. “I am a lifelong resident here. It has a small-town feel, yet it’s a big city.”

Today, growth continues to be a deciding factor in the city’s fortunes, with a major expansion taking shape on the Ford Road Corridor during the first part of this year, attracting more new developers, investors, and tourists alike. By reimagining the overall look and function of this main economic artery with the support of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) budget for façade restoration, the area will soon look sharp. And while high investment and new employment ensure a healthy, more diverse economy, more available cash also means improved quality of life.

Going by the reported spend on redevelopment and new businesses to date, it’s clear that the people of Westland do things well.

Dairy Queen recently completed a new, 2900-square-foot restaurant at nearly $1.5 million, while its neighbor spent just over $6 million to establish a Tommy’s Express Car Wash in another newly built facility of 5,448 square feet. The new Heartland Vet Clinic is also under construction on a rehabilitated site. The $925,000 investment secures the new 4,865-square-foot facility for the Westland community. There is also a new cannabis supplier in town, Common Citizen, setting up a 5,747-square-foot facility.

In addition, the DDA has spent $3 million to build a trailblazing “Mission to Mars” playscape, which opened in June this year and has gone viral. This development fully adheres to the American Disabilities Act to ensure ease of access for all children.

The DDA also refurbished the H2O Zone Spray Park built in 2022 on the corner of Orr and Carlson Drives, as well as refurbishing Ford Road’s Tattan Park, home to the city’s farmers market. The market is held every Thursday from the end of May to the beginning of October from 3 to 7 p.m. alongside numerous other outdoor events.

Following the steady decline in the support for traditional malls over several decades, the city of Westland is stepping up to reimagine the use of the building while encouraging its original purpose—to bring people together in shared space while reinvigorating the economy.

Following City Hall’s relocation to Warren Road in 2015, the city has set its sights on the redevelopment of nearly four acres of centrally located, open land that it had reserved for future public recreational use—directly abutting the Westland Mall. The exciting revitalization project is aptly named “The Annex at Nankin” and aims to establish a sense of community in what will be a reimagined, modern downtown area. With ample access to park areas and stunning outdoor entertainment spaces catering to adults and children, the year-round space will, no doubt, also draw more development.

The Annex at Nankin will be within easy reach of existing communities and is designed to provide for people’s needs. Safe, functional, and beautiful, this well-thought-out development will also double as a venue for other activities like corporate events, learning workshops, outdoor cinema, and more.

As a major draw for future income for the city, the Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA) has committed to contributing toward the cost of construction. “With the continued support of TIFA, the city will have the means to provide programming and park maintenance through a dedicated funding source well into the future,” says Merhib, who is enthusiastic about this key investment.

For those looking to relocate, the city’s central location means that families with school-going children and young adults at university can have their pick of secondary and tertiary education in the Wayne-Westland Community School District, with nearly 20 schools educating almost 10,000 students. In Livonia, the public school district offers the choice of another 20 schools serving more than 12,500 students alongside pre-schools and adult learning options.

Westland is also home to the William D. Ford Career Technical Center. This next-generation resource facility recognized for education excellence boasts 100,000 square feet of space and serves locals with a prospectus of more than 20 fields of study. From health services, digital media, and graphic design to manufacturing, technology, and culinary arts, its up-to-date teaching provides the local economy with a well-prepared and capable workforce.

Health and wellness are also well provided for, with the $10 million Westland Community Health Center welcoming its first patients in 2021, also in the heart of the city. Its location is especially practical as the brave staff of the Fire Department, next to the City Hall, are always at hand to bring in elderly residents living close by.

Other nearby facilities include the Beaumont Hospital and Wayne’s Level III trauma unit. Livonia’s Trinity Health Hospital also provides Level II trauma care.

Additional community services include a neighborhood makeover program that has its finger closely on the pulse of infrastructure repair and improvement, with a new focus on refurbishing damaged sidewalks. There is also a Friendship Center offering a space for senior citizens to connect and socialize, learn, exercise, dine together, and have fun.

Less expected, perhaps, but very welcome, is the Westland Rotary Canine Corral, ensuring that dogs are also cared for, with the city’s first park of its kind opening earlier this year complete with secure fencing, separate areas for small and large dogs, benches, pet drinking points, and training options.

Locals also enjoy dining out, with numerous options for takeout and on-the-go restaurants as well as a shop-and-dine district where patrons can choose from more than 150 shops, dining establishments, and other amenities. Another favorite attraction is the MJR Theater on Wayne Road which welcomes more than 300,000 attendees every year.

There’s also the Emagine Theater with its Super EMAX screen that not only provides viewers with much bigger screens but also connects the border of Canton with Westland as its footprint spans both areas. The local Inspire Theatre also provides a fun evening out with live performances keeping all and sundry entertained with good, old-fashioned theatre.

The city’s vulnerable are not forgotten in the whirlwind of advancement, however. It is home to several charitable organizations like the Wayne Ford Civic League, Westland Community Foundation, Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, Salvation Army, and others.

To this end, the City of Westland provides a Community Development Block Grant, which serves those in need alongside its youth and senior citizens with services that include affordable housing, infrastructure and home repairs, community building, and more. There are also the Wayne Westland Community Schools, and two dedicated animal care and rescue specialists that work full-time to protect and save animals in need.

With a bright and promising future ahead, the city is strategic in how it proceeds to implement its plans for progress. Consequently, it will continue leading with quality amenities that provide citizens with a high standard of living while leveraging its ample, growing housing market.

To secure sufficient housing for the future, Westland is also renegotiating zoning laws to ensure a wider range of accommodation types. Part of this mandate is to enable higher-density developments to help stimulate the local economy. In addition, it will bring mixed-use development to the area around Westland Mall that will give new communities access to the Annex at Nankin for its beautiful recreational and outdoor spaces. This is one area that truly has something for everyone.

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