Traverse City News and Events

DDA Eyes Next Steps For Farmers Market, Rotary Square

By Beth Milligan | July 16, 2021

The Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is eyeing next steps for two major downtown projects: a potential redesign of the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market and the construction of a long-awaited civic square called Rotary Square at the corner of Union and State streets.

DDA board members will meet today (Friday) at 8:30am to consider approving a $40,000 contract with consulting firm SmithGroup to develop an updated model and estimated construction costs for redesigning the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market. The company will compile previous studies and design options – such as $3 million in improvements that were considered in 2018 – with new input from farmers, merchants, and other local stakeholders, ultimately delivering new renderings, cost estimates, and a site plan to the DDA.

“This work is an important step forward in determining a more permanent space for the farmers market and is an integral part of the overall Unified Plan for the Lower Boardman River,” DDA CEO Jean Derenzy wrote in a memo to board members. “It is very important that we understand the needs of the market and how those needs align with the values of the community, as well as how the market ‘fits’ on this site. The time to determine the full cost to build a market space that has the ability to expand (when needed) is now.”

Derenzy tells The Ticker that despite previous design work already completed, the DDA needs to update plans to reflect the findings of the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan study. That study is underway now – the DDA held public input sessions Thursday at the City Opera House and will hold another public open house on August 10 – and is expected to generate a master plan by the end of this year that will guide development along the Boardman’s urban section.

One possibility emerging in the draft plan is to convert parking next to the Traverse Connect building along Grandview Parkway, or city parking Lot D, into green parkland space along the river. In that scenario, the DDA could explore having the farmers market spread out from its existing space in Lot B into Lot D as well, spacing out booths along the river on both sides of Cass Street. The DDA previously cited having more room for shoppers and vendors, a more organized layout, overhead coverings to protect against the elements, and a better “event” and placemaking vibe that integrates the market and the river as desired elements of a redesign process.

Board members will also consider approving a $13,130 contract with Nuart Signs today to install new signage at the farmers market. The traditional “blue awnings” that have long served as a visual landmark for the market downtown are in poor condition and have exceeded their lifespan, requiring replacement. Rather than pay $3,000 to keep installing awnings each spring, staff are recommending developing new signs and placing them on existing candy-cane poles around the farmers market lot. The signs are of a similar look and feel as other downtown placemaking signs – which Nuart also created – and can be relocated and used in whatever new space or layout the market ultimately occupies.

Derenzy notes that SmithGroup will consider other location options as part of its market plan update, including long-discussed sites like the Open Space or the new downtown civic square. Rotary Square, as the urban oasis and community gathering space will be called, will be located on the corner of Union and State streets where TCF/Huntington Bank (the two companies recently merged) is now located. The bank originally had a deal to sell the property to the DDA for $1.75 million contingent on the DDA building a new mixed-used building across the street in Lot G, located next to Modes Bum Steer, that would house a new bank headquarters on the ground floor and community workforce apartments above.

However, following Huntington's acquisition of TCF, Derenzy says she recently received official word from Huntington that the bank is no longer interested in a new branch across the street. Instead, the bank will sell its existing property outright to the DDA, with no further contingencies on a new building. Derenzy says that will significantly speed up the construction timeline for Rotary Square, as the DDA was previously committed to building the new headquarters before it could begin demolition work on the old bank building across the street.

Now the DDA is targeting an October closing on the property and can immediately start afterward on design and construction work. An estimated $750,000 that was previously committed to the new mixed-use building is also available for development of Rotary Square. The DDA has a total $3 million committed to the project, including a $1 million gift from Rotary and a $2 million allocation from the state of Michigan. Derenzy says the DDA will likely begin a public visioning process this fall to design the new civic square; uses proposed for the space have ranged from a winter ice skating rink and dedicated site for the downtown Christmas tree to a space for live music and public performances to park amenities like benches and fountains. The DDA will also seek redevelopment proposals for Lot G as part of an ongoing effort to revitalize downtown surface parking lots, but now has more time and flexibility to work with developers on a new building and to open up ground-floor options beyond a bank headquarters, Derenzy says.

The accelerated timeline means multiple significant projects could be unfolding in downtown Traverse City over the next few years, including the completion of the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan, the construction of Rotary Square, the redesign of the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market, and – depending on the outcome of pending legal action – the construction of FishPass at the Union Street Dam site. Those placemaking projects are in addition to multiple bridge and street reconstruction projects underway, as well as mixed-use and housing development.

“It’s really all connected,” says Derenzy. “As we’re looking at infill development, we’re not forgetting about parking, either. They all are important and play a critical role downtown. There are many public infrastructure projects we’re looking at right now.”

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