Collaborative effort to enhance downtown
Posted on 11/18/2022
Dancing Eye Gallery Owner Theresa Schierloh in her gallery greenhouse. The downtown street closures on Main and Center are in the spotlight as design firm Grissim, Metz and Andriese (GMA) examines the current assets and conditions and considers ‘what could be’ in terms of an iconic social district entrance; a rejuvenated public space; and new activities and amenities.

The Downtown Development Authority’s goal is to create an environment that is active and interesting with a sense of community, and is beautiful and compatible with Northville’s historic downtown. It will become a so-called “third place” where friends, families and guests can gather, in addition to home and work or school. Restaurants and retailers will be able to optimize their business offerings through unique outdoor settings on an expanded footprint. The plan will minimize the impact of weather on the outdoor experience and provide a safe, clean place to gather. The structures and fixtures will be able to be moved or removed if placemaking plans change.

Key to the transition are details such as lighting, activating the pavement to make it more like a promenade, removing traffic signage, and making the area more accessible to people with disabilities. GMA will share information with traffic engineering consultant, Fleis & Vandenbrink, which is addressing the impact of rerouted traffic on residential areas and non-arterial roads (those that provide local access, such as Northville Road and 7 Mile, but aren’t neighborhood streets.)

The main entrance to the social district, at Main and Center, will reflect the “timeless with a twist” theme for Downtown Northville by establishing a sense of place that is magical yet authentic. It could also provide branding opportunities for the city and businesses.

GMA is working with the DDA’s Economic Development Committee, also known as the advisory committee, to address the design, management and operational issues associated with the creation of the permanent pedestrian area. When the project is complete, GMA will provide a conceptual plan with phasing and cost estimates. This initial project cost was shared by the DDA and city of Northville.

The Historic District Commission (HDC) is involved in the project since the street structures could become semi-permanent fixtures. Those include the DDA-owned booths for visitors and vendors, and restaurant-owned sidewalls and arched plexiglass roofs. Only one merchant, Dancing Eye Gallery, has an outdoor “greenhouse” for displaying merchandise but other retailers may follow suit. The HDC appointed a subcommittee to be involved with the project and attend meetings of the DDA advisory team and GMA.

The Sustainability Committee also has an interest in this project and many members have attended those meetings. The next one is at 8 a.m. on Nov. 29 at City Hall. The design consultant and traffic consultant teams (GMA and Fleis & Vandenbrink) will hold a joint workshop on Dec. 7 to make presentations, gather public comment and take a walking tour of the downtown street closures. (Watch City News and the city and DDA website for details.)

How can the community get involved with the GMA design recommendations? “We’re inviting anyone who is interested to attend the meetings and share your thoughts and ideas,” said DDA Director Lori Ward.

At the Nov. 2 meeting, GMA spoke about the history of street closures in various cities nationwide. The first downtown street closure, in Kalamazoo, Mi., began in the 1960s but ended in the ‘80s, when indoor malls became popular and populations moved from cities to suburbs. Outdoor plazas that have succeeded in Boulder, Co.; Burlington, Vt.; and Charlottesville, Va.; are adjacent to destinations such as a university, beach, and public attractions, and have a large population living nearby. View the GMA presentation here.

If things go according to plan, the DDA will use the design solution generated by GMA to solicit bids for the identified projects for a Spring 2023 installation/construction season.

Note: This article first appeared in City News. To sign up for this free, weekly e-newsletter, click here