NEW BUFFALO — The long-running quest for additional parking and restrooms in downtown New Buffalo, along with plans to resume Thursday Farmers Markets there, were discussed during the May 13 meeting of the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
Mayor John Humphrey said the city has plans to add public bathrooms if they can acquire property in the downtown area, adding, “Let’s be honest, it’s a ways down the road.”
“It is being discussed, but it’s a matter of location and the acquisition of the right property for the city to be able to do it,” he said.
DDA Chairman Robert Kemper said properties being eyed as potential locations for a rest room facility include sites at parking lots along the railroad tracks off Mechanic Street and the open lot at the intersection of U.S. 12 (Buffalo Street) and Whittaker currently leased as a parking lot (each would have to be acquired by the city).
“Somewhere between Buffalo Street and the beach, a central location was deemed to be ideal if we can find it,” he said.
Humphrey said city officials have been in communication with Victor Ciardelli about his large, undeveloped property in the center of town “and there’s been some movement and negotiation there to use some of his property.”
“Our first instinct was to create additional (off-street) parking in the city and it looks like there are about three areas (within the Ciardelli property) that we could use, if we reach an agreement with them, for public parking,” Humphrey said.
He said the city also is proposing removing a section of the fence, moving the fence, and opening up some space along Merchant Street where port-a-potties could be located.
“That negotiation is ongoing right now,” he added.
Humphrey said the city is trying to adopt “as friendly a portion as possible” in those negotiations. He said there have been safety violations at the site, adding that the owner has agreed to fix those issues.
“He’s interested as far as I’m being told. I have not spoken to him personally … as far as I’m being told he is amenable to those properties being developed or potentially trying to redevelop them himself. He does have a project he wants to bring back, but he is also open to anything that other people want to bring out,” he said.
Humphrey said he is waiting for the next round of conversation for more clarity on the possible use of “properties the side for public use.”
He said the total parcel represents seven lots or one-quarter of the downtown – an enormous area to develop as one project.
“It’s much more realistic to try to develop a lot of these properties individually,” Humphrey said.
Later in the meeting Realtor and New Buffalo Business Association (NBBA) Board Treasurer Traci Lauricella said she has clients with a property on East Mechanic Street who may be interested in taking to the city about a possible sale.
Audrey Tuszynski, president of the NBBA Board, said for this summer port-a-potties will be located along Mechanic Street in front of the Keller-Williams office (and the former downtown Subway, which was said to be closed).She added that those restrooms also will be available for Farmers Market patrons.
Tuszynski said the 2021 New Buffalo Farmers Market will return to North Whittaker Street between Merchant and Mechanic streets (From The Villager to Nancy’s) from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays beginning May 27 and tentatively running through the Thursday before Labor Day, adding that the road will be closed to traffic starting at about 1 p.m.
“We aren’t going to have it jam-packed full of vendors – I’m capping it at 30. We have about 25 right now for almost every week,” she said.
Tuszynski said there will be live acoustic music at some of the markets, and the emphasis will be on local produce and food.
“We have decided to try to bring the farm back into farm market. We are keeping a 70-30 ratio of local produce, meats, eggs, cottage foods (pre-packaged, prepared) … food truck farmers, jellies, jams, those kind of things,” she said.
Tuszynski said there will some standing high-top tables for dining for visitors who patronize the food trucks.
“People want to physically be there, so we’re going to try to do it was safely as possible,” she said.
In another NBBA-related matter, Lauricella said the organization’s information booth located next to The Villager was recently painted and updated after being vandalized several times in the previous year.
Tuszynski said the booth’s plexiglass fixtures were destroyed last June, and even after this year’s painting was completed someone had dumped garbage and marred the floor with a magazine rack.
Lauricella said a battery-powered motion-light has been installed to hopefully deter anyone from causing damage.
Humphrey asked City Manager Darwin Watson to look into the possibility of installing some sort of a video camera in the area near the information booth.
“I think the town could be served by some video security stuff in numerous places, not just there,” he said.
Kemper noted that the light poles downtown are fully powered so a camera system could draw its electricity from those.
During a discussion on the possibility of allowing marijuana-related businesses in New Buffalo, Watson said each community is different.
“I think honestly it could work here, but it has to be done the right way,” he said, adding that adopting a policy that matches what the public wants seems the best way to proceed.
Humphrey said he doesn’t think the city should do anything without a referendum to measure the public’s interest.
Earlier he said the city would have to include a zoning component that limits the number of such businesses.
Humphrey said a company that owns land in New Buffalo and is interested in opening a marijuana-related operation there (first medical, then building up to recreational) may seek to do some public events “to build up towards a potential referendum in November in which the public can weigh in on the issue.”
He said the potential marijuana tax revenue based on a 3-percent rate that would go to the city would be $300,000. He said the highest amount New Buffalo has ever received back from the state for all other sales taxes was $150,000.
Also on May 13, Humphrey said the city has received a $500,000 grant from the state Waterways Commission for a seawall along the riverfront between the Whittaker Street Bridge and the public beach, and is waiting for the results of a grant meeting related to engineering.
“If we got that … we would proceed with the engineering and start moving toward construction of the seawall in our beachfront master plan,” he said.
Humphrey later said he would like to see construction of the seawall “begin, I would hope, this fall – at least from an engineering and basic maybe dredging standpoint.”
He said there has been no discussion about removing concrete blocks currently in place along that same stretch until the seawall is built, although he noted that water levels have dropped two feet.
“The question is if we got a storm and we removed them, it could be … very bad from our point, and the swale would not function without that wall there.”
In other May 13 New Buffalo DDA business:
Tuszynski (who serves as harbormaster for the city’s Municipal Marina) said New Buffalo is one of the only harbors in the area with slips for transient boaters. She said Michigan City and St Joseph have none while South Haven has just one slip.
Humphrey said the city will be enforcing three-hour parking limits in the operations of town where they are posted “very diligently this year.”
It was reported that a cut-out portion of North Whittaker Street (opened up to connect a portion of the under-construction white-painted downtown building with the water and sewer system) should be paved soon. One of the storefronts of that building proclaims that a Starbucks is “coming soon” (although that subject did not come upon at the May 13 DDA meeting).
Discussed possible mooring spaces for the Donkersloot & Sons dredge barge if it is in New Buffalo this summer. The current one near the bridge seemed the preferable option to a stretch at the end of “the peninsula.”