By Gari Voss
The City of Allegan began plans for reconstructing Downtown in 2018, now the vision is ready to become a reality. The formal groundbreaking was held on March 20, 2023 at the intersection of Locust and Trowbridge Streets.
A contingent of city, state and federal leaders gathered with Allegan business owners and citizens in an area of Downtown that would become a pedestrian plaza where shoppers and visitors can sit and relax.
“This has been a project that began in 2017 when I first arrived,” shared City Manager Joel Dye. “One of the first things I heard from community members and business owners was that improvements had been made on the Riverfront and now something must be done with the Downtown infrastructure. With that we began engaging community members, residents, business owners and other institutions like the schools and county government to talk about what the Allegan county seat could look like. We have had countless meetings.”
Since 2018, the City has offered numerous public meetings to discuss the project and solicit ideas. The City Council, Downtown Development Authority, Public Spaces Commission and City staff took suggestions seriously to create a shared vision.
“Over that time, we created a vision that will make the community much more welcoming and accessible,” continued Dye. “Along with underground improvements, streets will improve, our sidewalks will be wider, the landscaping will include 60 new trees, new outdoor furnishings and pedestrian streetlamps will be installed. Students at the Allegan Tech Center are designing bike racks. Whether people come by vehicle, bicycle, or their own two feet, this will be a place where people can get around the city.”
With the gathered information, Abonmarche, a community development firm, began creating conceptual renderings. Additional meetings were held to expand the vision and gain input. The public asked questions and made suggestions.
Engineers assessed the condition of streets and sidewalks, underground utilities, and building structures. Concerns were shared and possible solutions laid out.
Staying transparent, working with individuals and groups across the city, and COVID stretched out the preliminary planning over six years. During that time, not only was the City Council designing a new Streetscape above ground but dealing with major infrastructure renovation under roads and sidewalks.
While engineering assessments and Streetscape designs progressed, the city’s leadership worked a variety of angles to find the money to pay for a $8.3 million project.
In August 2022, the Downtown Infrastructure Project was approved for an estimated $10 million which included contingency. That was about $2.5 over the original engineering estimates, but the belief was to move forward.
The first chunk of financial assistance came from federal set aside funding of $250,000 that U.S. Representative Fred Upton was able to help secure. Then State Senator Aric Nesbit assisted in capturing $2 million from the state infrastructure improvement fund.
The United States Department of Agriculture awarded $99,000 as a Rural Development Grant that Abonmarche assisted the City in obtaining. Then there was American Rescue Plan Act dollars of $526,494 from Allegan County.
A portion of the infrastructure will be covered by Booker Funds which is an arm of the Clean Water State Revolving Funds that focus on the replacement of lead water pipes. There were downtown lines in need of replacement. At the same meeting, the Council accepted the Milbocker and Sons’ bid for construction of the drinking water system at $1,321,715.
“The remaining funding is being covered by city bonding (some of which will be forgiven by the state) and cash on hand,” stated City Manager Joel Dye.
With funding in place, the city was ready to move forward with the project.
The 3-Phase project will begin with improvements to Brady Street and the east end of Hubbard Street. If all goes as planned, Phase 1 will be completed between April 2023 and July 2023.
Phase 2 will address Locust Street through the heart of Downtown. With good weather and the availability of materials, the work will be completed between July 2023 and November 2023.
After a winter break, Phase 3 is scheduled to begin April 2024. The west section of Hubbard Street should be transformed by August 2024. These improvements should interface with the work that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has planned for the round about intersection of M-40 South, M-89/Marshall, Ely, Cedar and Hubbard Streets.
As State Senator Aric Nesbitt stressed in his groundbreaking speech, “This project will provide a placemaking spot for the county and the wider West Michigan area. Look at the fantastic new business that have been vested in Allegan whether the breweries, restaurants or other shops. It will be a great accessible location when it is all done. The town will continue to be accessible with some detours and convenient back doors. Be sure to shop local.”
Dye concluded, “One thing I have learned about this city is that we are always building; we are always investing. You can go back to the 1950s when the City Council at that time decided to develop the Riverfront. We are again looking forward.”
During the coming months, residents, employees and visitors are asked to continue their work and shopping the Downtown businesses. Watch for signs that will facilitate visits.