By Charles Sercombe
As usual, picking just one event or person who made a huge impact on Hamtramck for the past year is no easy choice.
During 2018 we have seen the continuation of street and alley repaving, a new city manager got hired, the city’s political landscape continues to morph, the city may be on the road to reinventing how fire suppression service is delivered and just a few weeks ago GM dropped a bombshell about the future of the Poletown Plant.
Despite all that heavy news, our choice for Newsmaker of the Year is Hamtramck Pubic Schools Superintendent Tom Niczay.
It’s hard to decide where to begin with Mr. Niczay because he has enjoyed so many accomplishments.
After serving as superintendent for the past 10 years, and having worked most of his professional career in the Hamtramck schools for 40 years, he recently announced his retirement, effective this coming June when the school year ends.
Mr. Niczay is the first superintendent to bring stability to the district after a string of disastrous superintendents for the past 20-some years.
It hasn’t been easy for Mr. Niczay.
He was quickly thrown into a financial crisis when the country tailspinned into a serious recession 10 years ago.
The district fell into a multi-million-dollar deficit but clawed its way back through austerity measures and now enjoys an $8 million budget surplus and a record number of students enrolled here.
Mr. Niczay’s legacy continues.
A few years ago he spearheaded a deal with the Detroit City Football Club to move their home games to Keyworth Stadium. That marriage has led to vast improvements to the stadium.
The team attracts upwards of 7,000 soccer fans, and the influx has spilled over to local bars and restaurants, giving the local economy a tremendous boost.
Recently, the team announced it is going pro, which will surely increase its fanbase and drive even more spillover to our local bars and restaurants.
That partnership led to another key connection.
Mr. Niczay orchestrated a partnership with the city administration and city council to seek the help of the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation to provide funding for major park improvements and the continued renovation of Keyworth Stadium.
There is now a good chance that a grant application to replace the turf at Keyworth Stadium will be awarded by the Wilson Foundation. Word about this is expected to be announced soon.
While that grant – worth $800,000 — is much needed and significant, it may likely foretell an even greater possibility.
And that would be funding to renovate the historical baseball grandstand and field in Veterans Memorial Park. The field is one of only a handful left in the country where professional Negro League Basebal was played.
It was home to the Detroit Stars in the 1930s when professional baseball was still segregated.
If we keep our fingers crossed, a proposal worth about $18 million might be coming our way from the Wilson Foundation.
No matter what, the fact that public school officials and the city council have partnered up is historical. For too many decades the two public bodies have largely steered clear of each other.
Hamtramck is too small of a city for that kind of indifference.
As for his upcoming retirement, Mr. Niczay, 65, had this to say when we asked him a few months ago.
“I’ve reached the age when it’s time to enjoy life,” he said.
And Hamtramck will forever be indebted to Mr. Niczay’s dedication to the school district and the community.
Dec. 14, 2018