This rendering by Fleis & Vandenbrink shows the Fifth Avenue pedestrian plaza plan prior to the changes requested by the City Commission at the Feb. 12 meeting.

This rendering by Fleis & Vandenbrink shows the Fifth Avenue pedestrian plaza plan prior to the changes requested by the City Commission at the Feb. 12 meeting.

Photo provided by city of Royal Oak

Downtown Royal Oak pedestrian plaza design plans critiqued at City Commission meeting

By: Taylor Christensen | Royal Oak Review | Published March 6, 2024


ROYAL OAK — Conceptual designs for a pedestrian plaza on West Fifth Street between South Center Street and South Lafayette Street are still up for discussion as City Commission members had a few suggestions last month on how to make it better for the downtown community.

The Downtown Development Authority has been working with civil engineering firm Fleis & Vandenbrink on this project since 2023.

Director of Community Development Timothy Thwing said the project has been budgeted by the DDA at $1.5 million at this point in the process.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a portion of West Fifth between South Center Street and South Washington Street has been blocked off from vehicular traffic, and since then, closing the street has proven to be a positive change for Downtown Royal Oak, according to Thwing and City Commissioner Brandon Kolo.

“We were just looking at ways to get people outside,” Kolo said regarding the 2020 shutdown. “This was a way to have people congregate in those areas and be safe while they do it.”

According to the proposal document, “The idea of a pedestrian plaza was initially explored due to business community feedback expressing a desire for improvements west of the railroad tracks downtown.”

The site was chosen due to the already existing pedestrian-only area established in 2020. It also serves as a central location close to restaurants, bars and shops.

Royal Oak Downtown Development Manager Daniel Solomon presented the proposed designs at the meeting and said that the DDA has been working with community stakeholders to figure out the best design.

“Basically what we heard is seating, lighting, green space, art, any number of things that are going to help us create a gathering space,” he said.

Beautification, increased accessibility and climate resilience were also mentioned by Solomon.

The commissioners, excited about the pedestrian plaza, also seek some changes to the plan.

Artificial turf being the green space of choice was one of the first questions brought up by Commissioner Melanie Macey.

“It just seems like now we’ve replaced all of this space with turf, and I don’t personally love that as much,” she said.

Solomon said that having turf instead of grass makes upkeep easier and more efficient, and allows for year-round usage of the green space.

“We want to make sure we are providing space for children to play without it getting to be a muddy mess in the middle during the spring,” he said. “We wanted to have a plaza that was usable in all four seasons by way of programming.

“Ultimately, we were worried a little about the foot traffic aspect ripping up some of that grass,” Solomon said.

Materials are still up for debate, according to Solomon, and turf does not need to be the final decision for the green spaces.

Kolo said a thorough discussion and a walk-through of the area to visualize the potential changes could benefit both the DDA and City Commission to help finalize a plan.

Commissioner Amanda Herzog expressed the same concerns.

“That will be a no-go from me on anything with synthetic turf. It’s the microplastics by stormwater drains, and entering our waterways is a huge concern public health-wise and environment-wise,” she said.

According to the design plans provided by Fleis & Vandenbrink, the plaza will have added trees, tables and chairs, shade structures, bike loops, and lights going across the walkway.

Chair comfortability was one of the concerns brought up by Commissioner Sharlan Douglas.

“I look at the seating suggestions here and none of them are comfortable,” Douglas said. “I would definitely lean into Commissioner Kolo’s suggestion that we need to open this process up and take a little more time with it.”

Douglas is hoping that with extra time and consideration, seniors and people with varying disabilities or other needs can enjoy the seating provided at the future plaza.

“I picture a nursing mother looking for a comfortable place to sit and rest, and all of those needs are just not met with the seating options offered here,” she said.

Thwing assured that there would still be vehicle access within the plaza, in case of emergency.

“The final design right now calls for the north side of it to have an area that’s drivable for emergency vehicles,” he said. “It’s not fully fleshed out and engineered yet, but fire and police have been involved in the design process.”

Following the Feb. 12 City Commission meeting, the DDA was scheduled to meet with Kolo, Douglas and Macey on March 4, after press time, to discuss the plans for the plaza, and  “make sure we are all on the same page and this new plaza is a great space for people to enjoy,” according to Kolo.

“After they make those revisions, we will proceed with an estimate and bring the estimates back (to the commissioners), and if it looks doable, they will proceed to construction documents,” Thwing said.

The project is slated to begin in the spring of 2025, according to Thwing, following the concept approval for the design.