Numerous Downtown Improvement Projects, Events On Deck
By Beth Milligan | Aug. 17, 2022
From the repaving of East Front Street to two upcoming bridge projects to a new community tailgate event for the Michigan/Michigan State game in Traverse City’s new civic square, numerous projects and events are headed soon to downtown Traverse City. Staff will give an overview of initiatives on deck to TC Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members Friday, with The Ticker offering a sneak peek at what’s ahead.
DDA CEO Jean Derenzy will give a board update Friday on several key infrastructure projects coming to downtown. The first is the repaving of East Front Street between Grandview Parkway and Boardman Avenue, which will begin next month. “The repaving of East Front Street is a temporary, but much needed, improvement with the understanding that reconstruction of the entire corridor will likely not occur for another five years,” according to Derenzy “The cost for repaving the street is being split between the DDA and city. Communication will be sent to businesses along the corridor on the exact timing and logistics of the project.”
Later this fall, work is expected to take place in the 200 block alley of Front Street to install sheet piling to stabilize the Boardman River wall. Derezy says the alley should remain open to the public during work, with delivery access still available for businesses. That will be followed in the spring by work in the 100 block alley of Front Street to relocate a sewer main near the river wall further south. That work could allow for the construction of a new riverfront pedestrian plaza, with the DDA hosting a public open house on September 7 from 9am to 6:30pm under a tent next to the river behind Kilwin’s to present three conceptual design options for the plaza. City commissioners voted Monday to award contracts for the infrastructure work in both alleys to Team Elmer’s and to issue up to $3.5 million in bonds to cover the project.
Other major projects are planned for next spring, notably full deck replacements on the South Union Street and North Cass Street bridges. Work on both bridges is expected to last through September 2023. For the South Union bridge project, traffic will be routed along State and Cass Streets during construction. For the North Cass bridge project, vehicles will be able to turn south onto Cass from Grandview Parkway and access parking Lot B (the farmers market parking lot), with Cass closed beyond that for bridge work. The pedestrian bridge from Lot B over the Boardman will serve “as the primary pedestrian gateway into downtown,” Derenzy says.
Lot B itself will undergo a reconstruction and repaving project in 2023 to address drainage issues and potholes, with new trees planted in the parking lot islands and the curb-cut eliminated off Grandview Parkway. Derenzy says the goal is to finish Lot B before work begins on the North Cass bridge. Construction on Lot B “will likely impact transient parking for two months and will displace the farmers market for up to three weeks,” Derenzy says.
The “largest and most disruptive” project headed to downtown, according to Derenzy, is the reconstruction of Grandview Parkway in 2024. Derenzy says DDA staff are working now on “creative ways to direct and encourage vehicle and pedestrian traffic to downtown” during construction and will be meeting with the Michigan Department of Transportation to “to talk about the proposed detour and signage plan.” More downtown projects are also underway: Derenzy will talk more next month with DDA board members about the planned conversion of State Street to two-way traffic, with staff also working on the new downtown civic square at the corner of State and Union streets. Team Elmer’s finished demolishing the former bank building on the property last week, leveled the space, and installed an irrigation system. Hydroseeding will take place Monday. A public visioning process to create the civic square design will follow in early 2023; community events will also start soon to highlight the property (see below).
According to Derenzy, several smaller-scale improvements have also occurred or will soon occur downtown. DDA and Youthworks staff recently demolished and removed the fountain in the J. Smith Walkway, which had “served the downtown well for roughly 20 years but no longer worked properly and had fallen in disrepair,” Derenzy says. Planters have been installed in the space for the remainder of summer. Longer-term design plans for the walkway will be included as part of the pedestrian plaza planning for the 100 block alley. Staff also removed the metal gateway arch at Wellington Plaza on East Front Street, the canvas of which had been ripped away. A new gateway arch could be installed in the future.
Derenzy says she’s working with the developers at the 309 West Front Street property and city staff on conceptual designs, costs, and logistics for a new staircase off the West Front Street Bridge down to the river. A fence/railing system could be installed in the future along the new riverwalk deck near the Union Street Bridge by the Breakwater development in the Warehouse District. Finally, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation recently awarded the DDA a $400,000 grant for façade improvements, which will be used on several projects throughout downtown, according to Derenzy.
A handful of new events and several favorites are returning to downtown this year. First up is the Last Slice of Summer, which will take place in the Open Space this Saturday, August 20. The free family-friendly event will include yoga on the water at 10am, the Downtown Art Fair from 10am-5pm, live music from 11am-6:30pm, and activities including bubbles, face paint, kids crafts, and chalk from 10am-7pm. Local nonprofits and food vendors will be featured, including The Good Bowl, Grand Traverse Pie Company, and Zest.
That event will be followed this fall by Toast to Downtown – the DDA’s annual dinner – on October 27 and the Downtown Halloween Walk on October 29. Also on October 29 will be a new event: a Game Day Tailgate featuring a community viewing party in the civic square for the MSU vs. Michigan football game. Derenzy says the DDA will be working with other local partners to host the event and bring in a large screen for viewing the game, with the goal of having the community “celebrate and embrace the civic square as a public space.”
The DDA’s normal slate of holiday events are on deck for late fall and early winter, including Shop Your Community Day (November 12); the Light Parade, Santa’s Arrival, and the Tree Lighting (November 19), Black Friday/Small Business Saturday (November 25/26), and Ladies’ Night and Men’s Night (December 8 and 16, respectively).
In response to frequent questions on whether two popular downtown events will ever return – Friday Night Live and the Downtown Chili Cookoff – Derenzy says the DDA is exploring programming alternatives to both events. Friday Night Live was replaced this and last year with events like Last Slice of Summer and the Downtown Art Fair; Derenzy says the DDA is still experimenting with whether Friday or Saturday works better for events and what type of programming best appeals to the public. In addition to February’s Traverse City Restaurant Week, the DDA is also exploring a culinary replacement for the winter Downtown Chili Cookoff that is a better fit for downtown restaurants and merchants, according to Derenzy.Comment