Unnoticed glen in heart of city gets attention

Record-Eagle/Pete Rodman Traverse City has received a $50,000 grant to develop land at the corner of Oak Street and West Front Street into a public plaza as part of the West Front Street makeover.

TRAVERSE CITY —  A $50,000 grant could be used to create a public plaza to align with the looming West Front Street makeover, an upgrade that wasn't even part of the street fix budget two weeks ago.

The Michigan Municipal League selected Traverse City as one of seven communities to receive a technical assistance grant for economic development projects in 2015. The Municipal League's PlacePlan will pay for detailed design plans and construction drawings for a vacant, city-owned parcel along Kids Creek next to the West Front Street fire station. 

The project aims to transform the site into a community space to provide a focal point for the emerging commercial corridor.

"When we started analyzing the street we really identified the corner of Oak and West Front as the center of the district and a great place to attract people to because you have this great creek that runs right through this urban district," said Nate Elkins, the urban designer working on the project. "To have this grant project happen together with the street project is really good because usually all of the cool stuff, the amenities ... comes at the end."

Elkins created a rough concept drawing of the park that shows a plaza at street level overlooking the glen created by the creek with access to the water. He credits city staffers for grabbing that drawing and seizing the grant opportunity.

City Planner Russ Soyring said the grant requires a $25,000 match from the city, and officials likely will put out a request for proposals to design the park. He believes the grant is flexible enough that any money left over from design work can be used for implementation. He's hopeful the city can leverage those funds and at least complete the upper level plaza this spring as part of a $2.24 million makeover of West Front between Hall Street and Division Street.  

Soyring said the targeted parcel has historical significance and at one time may have been part of a city park before the fire station was built. Today it's a small, scenic, but largely unnoticed spot in the city.  Developing a plaza overlook at Kids Creek will present an opportunity for people to stop and enjoy the area.

"There are already restaurants and sandwich shops nearby ... so this plaza can contribute to the overall enjoyment of being in this area of our city," Soyring said.

City Commissioners will discuss the West Front Street development when they meet Monday at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center. City Manager Jered Ottenwess said commissioners will review the city general fund contributions to the project, including the need for a special property tax assessment on property owners estimated at $250,000. The city traditionally covers half the assessment, and would be on the hook for related costs for the park and adjacent fire station and office building.

Elkins encourages West Front Street property owners who may have questions about the assessment or project to attend the meeting.

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