Nov. 25—TRAVERSE CITY — Riverfront scenes in downtown Traverse City could go from parking, sheet piling and riprap to boardwalks, bridges and grassy terraces, according to conceptual plans presented to the Downtown Development Authority.
Michael Guthrie, principal architect of Inform Studio, and landscape architect and firm principal Wes Michaels of Spackman Mossop Michaels reviewed drawings showing a transformed two blocks of riverfront between Union Street and Park Street.
DDA board members who saw the presentation at their recent meeting all agreed they want to see the plans to implement these ideas.
The renderings aren't an exact blueprint of what the DDA, city or other partners would build along the river, board member Peter Kirkwood said. For one, it's an "audacious" set of plans that are sure to collide with reality.
For another, the designs are conceptual, and Guthrie told DDA board members they can be executed in parts — likely over a few decades — rather than a few years, Mayor Richard Lewis said.
"We know it's not going to happen that way, but conceptually there's a lot of great ideas, thoughts and concepts that we're going to have to work through and then we've got to be able to finance it with our partners, all our partners," Lewis said.
The plans would turn what's now an alley and parking on the Boardman/Ottaway River's south bank into a more park-like space, one that would still allow some vehicles, like delivery or fire trucks, but focus on pedestrians, Guthrie said. Along with providing access to the river, it would serve as a place where people could move through downtown, as well as a destination onto itself.
Board member Scott Hardy said he wanted to hear a business case for what would likely be a costly project in the economic heart of the downtown.
"Because at some point it's kind of like open-heart surgery on the heart of this economy," he said. "How can I trust that I'm going to come out whole or better than the start of it?"
Guthrie offered lots of reasons, from other example cities where transforming the waterfront led to economic growth to his experience with other metropolises focusing on connecting people to water. Plus, the outdoor space could be valuable for restaurants looking for more dining space. All businesses could benefit from being able to activate what once was the back door, possibly the spot where they kept their dumpsters (which, in the design, would be consolidated to a handful of spots).
The riverbank designs included different ideas, from garden terraces on the south bank between Union and Cass streets to a grassy amphitheater on the north bank, Guthrie said.
Stairs and other structures would provide river access on both sides, especially below the Cass Street bridge, and a floating boardwalk would snake along the north bank. A rebuilt, boomerang-shaped pedestrian bridge would connect the J. Smith Walkway to the same parking lot that hosts the Sara Hardy Farmers Market.
Between Cass and Park streets, the concept includes more boardwalks along both banks, another rebuilt pedestrian bridge and a span that would bow out over the Boardman/Ottaway, cross Grandview Parkway, bow out again over Clinch Park Beach and bring pedestrians to the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trail.
Guthrie said that crossing aimed to fit the desires of respondents for a public engagement process behind the concept. He told the board he was surprised to learn how few visitors knew the Clinch Park tunnel was nearby.
Other features would aim to improve water quality, Michaels said, including a few underground ones. Along with more plantings along the shoreline to mimic the ground, mid- and overstories found in the forest to serve as a natural filter, the design would take roof and parking lot runoff and treat it in underground filters — as is, this water largely runs straight into the river.
Trees would be saved where possible, while other invasive species would be gradually phased out, Michaels said.
The overall idea was to both enhance the value of the natural resource and the value it brings to the city, improving the river quality without necessarily making a more naturalized shoreline, Guthrie said.
Those were among many possible features Guthrie and Michaels detailed, from lighting and ideas to create outdoor dining spaces with planters to changes to Cass Street that would emphasize a pedestrian crossing.
Lewis noted the plans are one part of a broader initiative aimed at revitalizing the Boardman/Ottaway River within the city's downtown.
They also coincide with city plans to repair a sheet-pile wall along part of the river, and remove it in another, along with relocating part of a major sewer main that sits atop the wall's foundation.
Board Chairman Gabe Schneider said the next step is to task DDA staff with creating implementation plans. DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said those plans would include cost estimates and phasing plans.
She also intends to present these conceptual plans to city commissioners, the city's planning board and its parks and recreation commission, she told the DDA board.
Schneider agreed with Lewis that the plans serve as a starting point for talking about what comes next for the stretch of the Boardman/Ottaway River.
"Future bodies don't necessarily have to do all the work we just did," he said. "We laid the groundwork and set the plan in motion."