Construction of a new downtown park, a winding walkway along the river, and tree-lined boulevards are among recommendations outlined in a Gateway District plan for the city of Sylvania.
Representatives of JJR, LLC, an Ann Arbor firm hired by the city to draw up plans to improve the Monroe and Main street corridors, presented the plan to council during a recent council commitee-of-the-whole meeting.
The project's purpose is to provide a detailed vision that guides civic investment in the district; attracts new businesses, stores, and residents, and ensures Sylvania's vitality and appeal for current and future generations.
The Gateway District includes the central business district, the Monroe Street business corridor west of U.S. 23, and the civic campus along Monroe, west of the railroad tracks, and the regional gateway which provides visual and physical connection to the region via U.S. 23.
Development of the plan has taken more than a year, and the community has had a number of opportunities to provide comments.
The city hired JJR at a cost of up to $58,000, but council in August increased the contract amount by $13,700 because the study area expanded.
Cheryl Zuellig, landscape architect with JJR, said when the firm began its study, it quickly found out about the city's wonderful neighborhoods and committed employers, but the team found some challenges.
For instance, first impressions of the city off of U.S. 23 are somewhat confusing and unattractive, and result in the lack of a strong sense of place.
Motorists need to be invited, or hooked in some way.
Landscaping, signs, and other visual draws could pull traffic off the expressway and into the city.
Kyle Verseman, landscape architect with JJR, said the team, which often heard during its study that parks and schools are key community assets and the city is a good place to raise a family, discovered other issues as well.
Those include unsightly overhead utility lines along Monroe Street; a diminished waterfront, lack of organized parking, and an absence of clear focal points.
Priority recommendations, or those with the highest importance for the community to achieve, include:
Creating boulevard islands and entry gateways along Monroe; removing overhead lines along Monroe; acquiring land along Monroe for parking and redevelopment; improving parking throughout the downtown, and creating a protected area adjacent to the Ottawa River on both sides that is accessible to the public via trails, footpaths, and key parking areas.
The plan recommends that the city:
•Recruit the best collection of retailers to locate within downtown Sylvania;
•Strengthen the downtown by focusing redevelopment at Main and Monroe and linking the west to the east side of downtown with a pedestrian-oriented green promenade;
•Enhance Monroe Street by redefining the corridor by introducing a landscaped boulevard, simplifying land use, eliminating clutter, and making it easier for people to find their way around the city;
•Connect to nature by increasing visibility and access to the water, establish a green buffer, manage downtown storm water, and limit development;
•Spotlight highlights by showcasing the downtown and the view and access to the river, and framing and enhancing the civic campus, and
•Provide more options by increasing the vibrancy in the district by encouraging multi-family residential development along the river/downtown and mixed use and retail options throughout the district.
The plan included dozens of action items that include creation of a new city park along Ten Mile Creek/ Ottawa River to serve as the "downtown's front yard."
The new park, Ms. Zuellig said, would serve as a place for urban gatherings and would be an important marker into the community.
The plan, she said, likely would be implemented in phases.
For example, she said, if the city wants to pursue the new riverwalk, it would seek input from citizens about the design
. Questions would need to be answered about funding, such as what can the city afford and whether there are grant opportunities.
Details would need to be worked out on the design, such as would bikes be allowed or would it feature active fishing areas.
The city could work on implementing the entire plan over the next five to 10 years, she said.
Council will study the plan and seek community input before making decisions on whether to proceed with the recommendations.
Mayor Craig Stough suggested the plan should be posted on the city's Web site "so people can see it and get back to us" with their comments.