Royal Oak moves forward with nearly $1 million downtown sidewalk project

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published September 4, 2020

 Crews from Milford Township-based Audia Construction break up the foundation after removing brick pavers in anticipation of pouring and stamping concrete to imitate pavers in front of Holiday Market Sept. 4.

Crews from Milford Township-based Audia Construction break up the foundation after removing brick pavers in anticipation of pouring and stamping concrete to imitate pavers in front of Holiday Market Sept. 4.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

 Crews remove debris from the sidewalk.

Crews remove debris from the sidewalk.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

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ROYAL OAK — Crews are starting work on a $980,206 downtown sidewalk improvement project financed by the Royal Oak Downtown Development Authority that will replace brick pavers with stamped concrete designed to imitate pavers.

The Royal Oak City Commission approved the project after sending it back to the DDA to make sure the authority still wanted to move forward with the costly project that would impact businesses already hampered by the global pandemic.

The DDA voted in favor of the project, and the commission approved Milford Township-based Audia Construction’s bid, which was the lowest of four received earlier this year.

The scope of the project includes removal of brick pavers, installation of stamped concrete streetscape, ramp replacements, and installation of trees and tree grates in the central business district.

The project also includes replacement of decorative streetlights on West Fourth Street, between the railroad tracks and South Main Street.

The work began in late August and is scheduled to be completed by November. Sidewalk work will take approximately 10 days, according to a city notice.

Sidewalk cafes not removed in the designated time frame will be removed by the city and impounded, with the cost for removal and storage billed to the property owner of record.

Royal Oak City Engineer Holly Donoghue said approximately half of the downtown district is currently brick pavers and the other half is already stamped concrete, so not all sidewalk cafes need to be removed as part of the project.

“We are planning to work in areas without sidewalk cafes first, and then do those higher impact areas towards the end of the project, likely towards the end of September,” Donoghue said. “In 2015, we did quite a few areas with stamped colored concrete, and we’re just going through and finishing up what remains.”

She said the DDA’s capital improvement plan goal is to get rid of pavers because they are costly to maintain and also pose a trip hazard. The city, she said, has been fixing broken pavers with asphalt, which detracts from the downtown aesthetic.

“We’re trying to be cognizant of who has sidewalk cafes and make sure we turn around the work and also make sure we’re not working on both sides of the street at the same time,” Donoghue said. “Hopefully, we’re in and out in a couple weeks for each business.”

Royal Oak City Attorney David Gillam said that in accordance with license agreements for sidewalk cafes approved by the City Commission, the building manager will be given five days’ notice to completely remove the sidewalk cafe from city property to accommodate the proposed work.

After the completion of work, the city will then notify the building or restaurant manager to reinstall the cafe in accordance with the license agreement.

Gillam said the license agreements for sidewalk cafes run through the end of October and that the City Commission voted to waive all license fees in order to help bolster businesses struggling from the impact of COVID-19.

Not all business operators in the downtown district are pleased about the timing of the project.

Kacee Must, founder and owner of Citizen Yoga, said all the locations of her business in Michigan remained closed in accordance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders, which have since been relaxed. The studio in downtown Royal Oak was holding outdoor classes in the large, adjacent plaza.

“There’s no rush to get this done. It’s not like an essential project for Royal Oak; keeping businesses open is an essential part of having a city,” Must said. “There’s no reason they can’t postpone it until the middle of October to make sure we have access to the one area we can run our classes.”

The sidewalk project would eliminate the studio’s ability to hold outdoor classes throughout the duration of the work. Must said Citizen Yoga offers eight to 10 classes a day with fewer than half the number of students as usual.

“It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Royal Oak needs so many things, not new sidewalk pavers. It needs investment in business and ads to bring people to Royal Oak,” she said. “I find it really unhelpful at a time like this.”

Must also highlighted the positive impact outdoor yoga has on mental health — mindfulness, movement and a sense of community — and its importance during uncertain times.

“The success of coming out of this strong as a city hinges on collaboration and communication. If doing a project like this is going to override those two elements between the city and business owners, then we’re all going to be in trouble,” she said.

For more information, call the Royal Oak Engineering Division at (248) 246-3260.

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