DDA To Tackle Busy Agenda Friday - Assuming Board Can Meet
By Beth Milligan | Oct. 15, 2020
Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members could tackle a busy agenda Friday that includes hiring a firm to study a vulnerable section of Boardman River waterfront and discussing updates on several downtown projects – assuming the DDA meeting isn’t rescheduled, with remote city meetings in limbo this week due to rapidly changing state rules.
DDA CEO Jean Derenzy says she will make a decision by noon today (Thursday) on whether Friday’s 8am DDA board meeting will go ahead or be rescheduled. City staff this week already had to cancel Monday’s city commission meeting and Tuesday’s board of zoning appeals and Traverse City Light & Power meetings after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Monday that Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency orders were void effective immediately. Whitmer’s orders included language allowing local government boards to meet remotely; without them in place, state laws requiring a quorum of board members to be present in person and prohibiting remote voting went back into effect.
City Clerk Benjamin Marentette says the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives both approved bills this week allowing government bodies to continue meeting remotely, which are now headed to Whitmer for her signature. Depending on the timing of her approval, the DDA could continue with its virtual meeting Friday and city commissioners could meet remotely Monday. While some other local boards have resumed in-person meetings, Marentette says city boards will meet virtually through at least the end of 2020. “We have members of the commission and city staff who have health vulnerabilities, and we know that members of the public are in that same situation,” he says. “Our other concern is continuity of city services if an entire city department or commission were to fall ill, like the city clerk’s office when it needs to handle an election.”
When DDA board members do meet, their agenda will include approving a $79,190 study to assess a vulnerable section of retaining wall along the Boardman River in the northern alleys of the 100 and 200 blocks oof Front Street. Field and dive inspections of the area show that while the retaining wall itself appears stable, the loss of soil material backfill – exacerbated by high water levels – “could have serious implications for the structural integrity of critical infrastructure in this area, including a larger sewer main that resides just south of the retaining wall,” according to a memo from Derenzy. “In addition, the sewer connections (into the sewer main) from the businesses along the 100 and 200 blocks could become damaged or compromised.”
Derenzy is recommending hiring consulting firm Smith Group – which is already working with the DDA on creating a long-term plan for the Lower Boardman River – on a three-month site assessment. Derenzy tells The Ticker the study will identify solutions to address the backfill issue and protect the sewer main and existing lines, while also identifying opportunities to implement new pedestrian and placemaking elements along the river. Members of the public have shared input encouraging the DDA to beautify the Boardman River-facing side of downtown businesses, making the alleys aesthetically appealing in addition to Front Street.
The DDA and city are proposed to split the study costs, with the DDA contributing $46,255 (coming out of the TIF 97 budget) and the city contributing $32,935. The project will require both DDA board and city commission approval. Derenzy says if approved, the study will take place over winter, providing time for proper permits to be pulled and work to take place in the spring.
Another riverfront project is also on the DDA meeting agenda. According to Derenzy, when a new riverwalk was recently constructed along the Boardman stretching from the Union Street bridge to the Uptown development – a project co-funded by the DDA and city – several aspects of construction did not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Those included stairs at the Union Street bridge and a ramp leading down from the parking lot. DDA and city staff have been working for several months on a settlement agreement to correct the work with involved contractors, including Gourdie Fraser, Team Elmer’s, and Spence Brothers. DDA board members will be asked to approve the settlement agreement, which absolves the DDA and city of any additional costs for the corrective work, calls for settling outstanding contractor balances, and releases the involved parties from liability related to design and construction deficiencies.
Derenzy will also provide DDA board members with updates on several downtown developments and projects. According to the DDA CEO, a new building under construction at 305 West Front – planned to be a future 4Front headquarters – is anticipated to be ready for occupancy in February. A snowmelt system has been installed on sidewalks around the building. Snowmelt is also expected to be installed as part of the ongoing reconstruction of the Old City Hall building at 160 East State Street, with the DDA sharing costs for the streetscape improvements in both projects.
Derenzy says work is also progressing on the Hannah Lay building – where developer Thom Darga is renovating the second floor for office space and third and four floors for condominiums, with only two condominiums still available for purchase – as well as the new four-story Honor State Bank building on East Front Street. That project expected a significant setback when a portion of the building collapsed this spring, but Derenzy says the framework structure is now complete, the roof on, and storm and water connections completed. A high-tech stormwater treatment system called Aqua Swirl is being installed on the property, which Derenzy says will be a “great environmental benefit” to downtown and the Boardman River. Mason work is underway and the building is expected to be enclosed before winter, with completion targeted for spring 2021.Comment