Blossom Heath pier plans approved

Work to commence this fall

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 26, 2021

 This design by Environmental Consulting and Technology shows a new activity pier at Blossom Heath Park. City Council approved the site plan and bid for the project.

This design by Environmental Consulting and Technology shows a new activity pier at Blossom Heath Park. City Council approved the site plan and bid for the project.

Image from St. Clair Shores City Council packet

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Continuing improvements at Blossom Heath Park, St. Clair Shores City Council voted unanimously to approve a plan to improve the fishing pier, extending it into Lake St. Clair and creating another destination for residents and visitors to enjoy in St. Clair Shores.

In unanimous votes Aug. 16, City Council approved a site plan for the project, which is being paid for primarily through a 20-year bond paid for by the Tax-Increment Finance Authority, or TIFA. It also approved the recommendation awarding the project to E.C. Korneffel Co., of Trenton, Michigan.

Currently, the road leading to the pier is collapsing and the seawall is deteriorating, said Assistant City Manager William Gambill. In addition to fixing those problems, the project will add a boardwalk along the side of the road to get to the pier, extend the pier out 390 feet and add shade structures, a water taxi, plantings and seating to make the pier a destination. Where the boat house currently stands would instead be made into an area for visitors to gather and gaze out at the lagoon, and they could likewise gather and look at Lake St. Clair from under the shade structures farther out on the pier.

Stone pilings would be placed at the end of the pier and at certain points along its sides to protect it from ice flows.

“It’s (being) built in a way to make sure that it will sustain and last a long time,” Gambill said.

The area will also be lit with nautical-themed lights, and new trees will be planted along the pier. While the city considered shortening the pier to save money, Gambill said the cost savings were not significant, and city officials thought it would be better to have the pier extend past Miller Marina out into the lake.

Although TIFA is committing to paying a $6.6 million bond to finance the project, the low bid from E.C. Korneffel Co. was in the amount of $7.89 million, after some cost reductions made by the city to the plan. The remaining balance will be paid out of the city’s general fund and with money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Councilman Peter Accica said he was in favor of extending the pier.

“There’s no real cost savings when they’re there and already building it. They can extend it, it’s not much more,” he said.

The financial decisions the city has made over the past 10 years has allowed it to put this ambitious project together with TIFA, said Councilman John Caron. He said it would impact the quality of life not only for St. Clair Shores residents, but also the surrounding community.

“You look at what Blossom Heath was years ago ... it was a hidden gem with a lot of potential. Now you look at it and you look at what we’re able to do there,” said Councilwoman Candice Rusie. “This is a fantastic project for the city and the residents. (There is) so much potential to really make this a gem for the city.”

Gambill said work should begin in September, and with a completion timeline of 270 days, it could be ready for summer 2022.

“I’m excited that we’re going to clean up what is a mess right now at the end of which is ... a beautiful park,” Councilman Ron Frederick said.

He suggested, however, that there be more cigarette receptacles placed along the pier, since those seem to accumulate in the area. Councilman Chris Vitale said he would also like to see a stronger material that requires less maintenance for the railing around the pier. He expressed concerns about erosion at railing joints and the potential for it to bend if someone stood on it.

“How do we keep this from becoming an ongoing cost and an ongoing cosmetic issue?” he asked. “I want this to last for years and not have to do maintenance, even if that means spending a little more on the railings.”

Patrick Judd — project director for Environmental Consulting and Technology, the firm that designed the project — said maintenance is inevitable and alternative railing materials, like cables, would not hold up to the pressure that ice would put upon them.

Nevertheless, he said he could present City Council members with some alternatives to the railing so they could make a decision on the proper material to use.

On the project bid, Caron said he was concerned that not enough contingency had been built into the project. City administrators agreed.

“In any construction, there is a lot of unknown, regardless of what you think you know,” said City Manager Matthew Coppler. “This particular one, 10% is probably the way to go instead of the 5%-6% we’re looking at.”

Mayor Kip Walby said TIFA Chairman Richard Widgren, the late Councilman Peter Rubino, former City Manager Mike Smith and Gambill all worked hard to move this project forward.

With this investment, he said TIFA will have put more than $8.5 million into Blossom Heath Park, for which the city is thankful.

In prior decades, he said, “residents didn’t get down there (to Blossom Heath Park). It had run into decay, and it has really changed.

“It has really changed St. Clair Shores. I cannot thank TIFA enough for having that vision. Eight and a half million dollars they have put into this park for the residents to enjoy, and they certainly are enjoying it.”

TIFA was begun in 1987, when the taxable value of the properties in its jurisdiction, which encompasses the area along Jefferson Avenue south of Revere Street to just south of Nine Mile Road, were frozen as to what the city can collect. That same amount of tax revenue still continues to come to the city of St. Clair Shores, but the tax revenue from the incremental increases in taxable value since then is used by TIFA for improvements to the area, including tax dollars that would have gone to other governmental entities.

The 8th Amendment to the TIFA, approved unanimously by members of City Council in November 2020, allows the authority to seek the bond to improve and expand the fishing pier at Blossom Heath, and it extends the TIFA to 2041 to allow for the financing.

In addition to the pier, TIFA has paid for the $1.2 million beach house project and for half of the $513,513 project to move the boat ramp area west, along with other area improvements.

“The whole group is doing a tremendous job. This is going to be transformational,” Walby said. “People desire to see the water, and it’s not cheap to get it out there.

“It’s going to be fantastic.”

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