Downtown TC Updates: Parking Lot Reconstruction, Deck/Riverfront, Events
By Beth Milligan | March 19, 2023
Plans for the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to reconstruct the farmers market lot this spring have been pushed back at least two years after estimates came in significantly over budget. However, the delay offers an opportunity to wrap the project into a larger redesign of the downtown riverfront, with DDA board members voting Friday to recommend that city commissioners issue a request-for-proposals for design services for both the riverfront and a new downtown parking deck. Board members also discussed other downtown project and event updates, including the return of two Friday Night Live events this summer.
Plans this year to reconstruct and repave Lot B – the farmers market lot bordered by Grandview Parkway, Cass Street, and the Boardman River – have been put on hold. The DDA originally intended to install a new median to separate Lot B from the adjacent permit parking Lot T, a move that would allow Lot T to be redeveloped in the future. The reconstruction, which would eliminate 30 parking spaces, also called for the installation of new islands with trees, the installation of new stormwater controls, and the conversion of paid parking to pay-by-plate parking.
Past estimates for the long-planned project came in at $130,000 in 2012 and $400,000 in 2014. Almost a decade later, a recent city engineering estimate now puts the project at over $1 million, according to a memo from DDA Transportation Mobility Director Nicole VanNess. “These increased costs are beyond our estimated contingencies, and there are no other sources identified at this time to bridge the funding gap,” she wrote. Therefore, staff recommended pushing the project back to the 2025-26 budget year, a motion that was supported by board members. The planned elimination of Lot B’s Grandview Parkway entrance is still set to occur next year as part of the state’s reconstruction of Grandview Parkway.
Staff said the delay offers the opportunity to incorporate the parking lot reconstruction – as well as improvement options for the farmers market – into a larger estimated $63.5 million redesign of the downtown Boardman/Ottaway riverfront. DDA board members voted unanimously Friday to support issuing a request-for-proposals (RFP) for design and engineering services for the multi-year redesign. The RFP would result in a firm completing 10-30 percent of the total design work, then checking back with city leaders to see which projects should be prioritized first so that final design, engineering, and fundraising can commence for those initial phases.
DDA CEO Jean Derenzy acknowledged that $63.5 million can seem like an “overwhelming” figure, but noted the project would be spread across many years. It’s the first major step in executing the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan, a plan for the urbanized section of river that was “completed after four years of community engagement,” she said. Derenzy also said the price tag seems high because the river has been “ignored and abused for centuries,” saying the project was about “demonstrating our care for the river...protecting, enhancing, and accessing it.”
DDA board members Friday also unanimously supported issuing an RFP for design and engineering services for a third downtown parking deck. Work will also cover construction management and finalizing cost estimates for the deck. Both the riverfront and parking deck RFP will next go to city commissioners for approval; Derenzy said she’d be presenting both proposals to commissioners at an April 10 study session.
Pointing out that a third deck has been discussed for years, DDA board member Scott Hardy said it was time to move forward. “Downtown businesses need to know this is real,” he said. “Without this component, we’re in a world of hurt downtown because of a lack of parking spaces.” Hardy noted that several upcoming redevelopment projects are set to eliminate more lots downtown. Downtown could lose up to 546 parking spaces between now and 2027, but the new deck is estimated to hold 625 spaces – creating a net gain of 79 spaces.
One of the first lots to go will be Lot V at the corner of Pine and State streets. The city made a land swap deal with Socks Construction that included the lot in exchange for the city acquiring several parcels along State Street, where the new deck will be built. VanNess said Friday that Lot V, currently used for permit parking, will likely be permanently closed by July 1. The DDA has contacted permit holders to alert them to the closure and to offer alternative parking options at the two existing downtown decks.
Other downtown updates...
> Board members Friday discussed the results of a recent survey of downtown employees about parking and mobility. The survey showed that of 233 respondents, over 91 percent – 213 – drive alone as their primary commute method to work. However, less than 47 percent of respondents said that was their preference. Many respondents indicated an interest in transit, telecommuting, or micro-mobility options like biking. VanNess said guiding more employees toward those options – as well as changing user behavior to become more accustomed to parking in garages instead of surface lots as the DDA consolidates spaces into garages – will be key going forward. DDA Board Chair Gabe Schneider said respondent interest in BATA showed the importance of transit to downtown. Referencing recent headlines over BATA’s board expansion – which BATA has said will allow for more representation from the city/downtown, among other user groups – DDA board members agreed keeping a close relationship with the organization was important and discussed taking an official stance on BATA’s board expansion in the future.
> DDA staff provided other project and event updates Friday. Derenzy said discussions about expanding the DDA boundaries to include the Eighth Street corridor – which were active pre-COVID but stalled during the pandemic – are being revived. The expansion, which could also extend down West Front Street, would not extend tax increment financing (TIF) boundaries but rather the DDA’s geographic service area. Any formal action to extend downtown boundaries would require DDA and city commission approval in the future.
Following what staff described as a successful Traverse City Restaurant Week, more downtown events are on deck in the coming months. To spur visitor activity over the next month, the DDA is running a promotion through April 15 offering prize drawings of $500, $250, and $100 downtown gift cards for participants who submit receipts from five different downtown businesses (minimum $5 per receipt). Downtown TC is also set to host a family-friendly Bunny Hop Scavenger Hunt on April 8 from 10am to 12pm, followed this summer by the return of the Old Town Arts & Crafts Fair (June 17), National Cherry Festival Arts & Crafts Fair (July 2), and Downtown Fine Arts & Crafts Fair (August 19).
Friday Night Live is also set to return this summer. While it won’t occur with the same frequency as past years – when events would be held almost weekly all summer – two events are slated to take place August 4 and 11 from 5pm to 9pm. Communications and Outreach Director Art Bukowski said the DDA has received many questions about the event coming back and that this summer’s offerings would be “essentially similar” to past events. “We’re excited about really brainstorming some nice draws for those particular events,” he said.Comment