Downtown Cameras, River Staircase Project Poised to Move Forward
By Beth Milligan | Nov. 4, 2023
Two long-discussed projects for downtown Traverse City – the installation of security cameras throughout the district and the construction of a new staircase from the West Front Street bridge to the Boardman River that could connect into a larger riverwalk system – are poised to move forward. Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members discussed the projects Friday, which will return for formal approval in the coming weeks.
Up to 31 new security cameras could be installed throughout downtown Traverse City under a partnership between the DDA and Traverse City Police Department (TCPD). The project, which has been discussed since 2018 and was also included as a goal in the city’s Healthier Drinking Culture Strategic Plan, calls for the DDA to fund the cameras and the TCPD to manage and operate them. The cameras – leased from Flock Safety, which also has agreements with Garfield Township, East Bay Township, and Peninsula Township for license plate-reading cameras through the Sheriff’s Office – would cost $21,700 to install and $108,000 to operate annually.
The downtown cameras would be pan-tilt-zoom models, different than the license plate readers in the township. DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said they would increase transparency and safety in a district that – between DDA residents, businesses, visitors, and entertainment – represents a “24/7 operation.” TCPD Chief Matthew Richmond said the project would not represent the first introduction of cameras downtown, noting that privately owned security cameras are present in many areas – which the TCPD sometimes uses in investigations when owners are willing to share footage. The TCPD also deploys approximately 20 live-view cameras during the National Cherry Festival and conducts camera surveillance during other large-scale events like the CherryT Ball Drop and Up North Pride, Richmond said.
But a dedicated security system controlled by the TCPD would be new for downtown Traverse City, though such cameras are common in other cities. Richmond said security footage helps “immensely” in prosecution for cases, adding that the primary value of the cameras will be for evidence-gathering after crimes as well as deterrence. The TCPD can monitor the cameras live if a situation arises or the department needs to immediately assess a scene, but Richmond said that is not their primary intended use. “We don’t have the manpower to watch 24/7,” he said. “We’re not going to do that.” Camera footage is automatically deleted after a certain period of time if it has no evidentiary value, Richmond said.
Richmond, who noted the TCPD is also exploring deploying cameras at the homeless encampment called The Pines on Eleventh Street, said the cameras will be visible to the public. Signage will also alert downtown visitors to their presence. Widespread knowledge of the existence of cameras adds to their efficacy as a deterrent, Richmond explained. “You will see them, they’re not hidden,” he said. “We’re not here to spy on you. This is for your safety.”
DDA board members were generally supportive of the project, though raised several questions about whether the DDA – and not the TCPD and/or city – should be paying for the cameras. Derenzy said she plans to discuss cost-sharing with new incoming City Manager Elizabeth Vogel in January. The city and DDA recently approved a cost-sharing agreement for services that attempts to delineate between things the city would be doing anyway if the DDA didn’t exist – like collecting trash – versus services that are “enhancements” or above and beyond normal city services in specific benefit to the downtown district.
Derenzy said she recommended the DDA cover the cost for cameras for the first year as an enhancement for downtown safety and security, but then evaluate with the city and TCPD to what degree they’d eventually be using cameras anyway and negotiate potential shared costs from there. Derenzy also said the DDA had evaluated the cost of purchasing versus leasing cameras, with the leasing/subscription-based model offering better long-term value to cover hardware and software upgrades for the rapidly evolving technology.
The DDA hopes to construct a long-discussed staircase from the West Front Street bridge down to the Boardman River this winter – finishing the project before spring to avoid shutting down a lane of West Front Street during peak visitor traffic.
The staircase, in the works since 2019, was originally planned to be included in the West Front Street bridge reconstruction, but was later determined to be “out of scope” for bridge funding. The DDA had to wait until after the bridge was finished to begin work on the staircase, which will connect down to a path along the Boardman River. Jeff Smoke, the developer of the new mixed-use development at 309 West Front Street next to the bridge, gave the city an easement for the path. The developer will put the riverwalk in, while the DDA will maintain it, Derenzy said.
Patrick Machin from Machin Engineering was hired to develop a staircase and railing concept/system utilizing aesthetic and material elements similar to the Boardman Lake Loop Trail, Derenzy said. The goal is to create a consistent look for riverwalk throughout downtown as it evolves over time, such as when new sections of boardwalk are installed or old sections are replaced. That includes the temporary railing and platform adjacent to the Breakwater development on Garland Street, which is planned to be replaced with a permanent riverwalk mirroring elements of the West Front Street staircase design. That project could occur in the 2024-25 fiscal year, Derenzy said.
The cost of the West Front Street bridge staircase is estimated at $172,410, though the DDA will need to go through a request-for-proposals (RFP) process to get final bids. Derenzy said she hopes to bring a recommended contract to the board by December or January at the latest so that construction can begin and ideally be finished before spring.
Pictured: West Front Street bridge with no staircase (top left), rendering of new West Front Street bridge staircase (top right), temporary railing/platform adjacent to Breakwater (bottom left), Flock Safety security camera (bottom right)Comment