NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo Downtown Development Authority discussed a wide range of topics related to the city’s downtown area and lakefront during its Sept. 9 quarterly meeting.
Mayor John Humphrey said the city’s “next big project” is a planned seawall along the Galien Riverfront between the Bridgman and the pubic beach, pending the receipt of all needed grants and matching those funds. He added that a preliminary grant to pay for preliminary engineering work on the project has been accepted, with that work expected to take place this fall.
“We hope to start dredging next spring, and hopefully throughout the year the actual wall,” he said, later adding “It’s all about the financing.”
He later said a pedestrian bridge next to the Whittaker Street span is still “on the table.”
“We’re looking for outside investment for that … if someone wanted to donate the funds for that we’d be glad to name it after them.”
Humphrey added that there also are specific grants for such projects that city officials are investigating.
“As soon as we can fund that, we’re going to build that because of the safety issue you are all concerned about,” he said.
Humphrey said the full three-phase waterfront/beach plan, which includes a re-routed road with a roundabout and a new concession area with a building likely to be similar to the one in Michigan City, will be a multi-year effort.
“I hope in the next five years we see this completed,” he said.
Humphrey said “a whole new beach structure” will require more staff and “we’re continuing trying to strategize how we’re going to expand our parks department to really become something that can serve our tourism in the way it needs to.”
City Manager Darwin Watson said the removal of the existing Dune Walk at the Public Beach will hopefully get started this fall, with construction of the new one then beginning next spring.
In another matter, Watson said he and Humphrey met recently with representatives of New Buffalo Township and the Berrien County Road Department regarding documents related to Marquette Greenway trail, which ultimately is designed to go from Chicago to Michigan.
He said the project is moving forward and construction is likely to start next spring.
In response to a question, Watson said the route near Grand Beach will be on the Amtrak right of way, with negotiations to make that happen continuing.
Humphrey said there is optimism that the relationship with Amtrak seems to be going well, other than a recent slowdown due to personnel changes. He also said the trail will conclude at a “pocket park” at Smith and Mechanic streets in the city.
“The actual trail, one it hits the city, is going to be 10 feet wide … and that’s going to go over city right of way along 12, and not down Willard, but its going to pick up again on Mechanic on the train side and go down to the pocket park,” he said, adding that there are likely to be some issues with homeowners along Mechanic over the 10-foot wide trail.
DDA Chairman Robert Kemper noted that a nearby “pocket parking lot” did not elicit as much opposition as expected from neighbors.
Authority member J.V. Peacock said there are many real estate studies that show trails increasing property values by 5 to 15 percent.
After being asked if the pocket park trailhead would include rest rooms, Humphrey said city officials are looking for a site for new facilities in the downtown area, adding that finding the right spot is going to be challenging.
Later in the meeting Humphrey said Victor Ciardelli, owner of a large, undeveloped downtown property, has agreed to let the city use “the green space that’s behind the fence” (along Merchant Street). He said the fence will be moved back to open up an area that can be used for public events such as the Oct. 9 Harvest and Wine Festival.
“And then on the backside on Mechanic (Street) there’s some lots were going to use for public parking.”
Humphrey said he feels Ciardelli “wants someone to bring him something to build there.”
There was discussion of the potential cost of removing a large, unfinished underground parking garage structure on the Ciardelli property, with estimates ranging from $300,000 to $1 million.
Humphrey said the city could have purchased the lot for $400,000 in 2009, adding “That still haunts my dreams.”
In another Sept. 9 matter, Watkins said AT&T has applied for right-of-way applications to put in three cell boosters (on North Whittaker Street, North Drive and Marquette Drive), adding that the North Whittaker site is close to a water main so the city is working to make sure that line doesn’t get damaged.
Watkins said the concession stand at the public beach had a solid summer after the final year of a three-year contract with the city was transferred to Dan Leung. He said bids for a new contract will be sought later this year.
“Mr. Leung has done a great job,” Watson said, adding that he has expressed an interest in seeking a new contract..
Humphrey a recent effort to have a public referendum on marijuana businesses in New Buffalo came up short of the number of petitions required, so a mailing card seeking the public’s level of support (or lack of it) on medical and recreational entities being allowed will be sent out.
“I would like to see 800, 900 responses to these questions so we have an actual, real public measure of what people’s opinion is,” he said. “And once we do that, then the City Council can move forward.”
He also noted that representatives of a business hoping to open a marijuana business in the city have indicated they plan to sell currently legal products while awaiting a decision on medical and/or recreational.
Near the conclusion of the meeting, the Downtown Development Authority accepted the resignation of longtime member Doug Roch, with Kemper reading a letter that included the following: “Thankful for the opportunity to work through a wide range of issues and implement some lasting solutions.”
Kemper asked “What is our mission?” related to the DDA, and said one of its major goals should be to “make it a year-round economy.”
In other Sept. 9 New Buffalo DDA business:
• Watson told DDA members that the City Council recently approved having the Thursday downtown Farmers Market take place for two additional days (Sept. 9 and 16).
• Members were told of a no-cost assessment the Michigan Economic Development Corporation can do in a community under its Redevelopment Ready Communities program, with Watson adding that the DDA along with the City Council and city staff will likely be asked to participate if the assessment occurs.