A proposal from MKSK shows Jefferson Avenue, north of 10 Mile Road, temporarily brought down to three lanes of traffic to allow for on-street parking, food trucks and pedestrian traffic during a potential Nautical Mile event.

A proposal from MKSK shows Jefferson Avenue, north of 10 Mile Road, temporarily brought down to three lanes of traffic to allow for on-street parking, food trucks and pedestrian traffic during a potential Nautical Mile event.

Image provided by the city of St. Clair Shores

Planning company presents new Nautical Mile vision

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published January 23, 2018

ST. CLAIR SHORES — The look of the Nautical Mile could be changing in small, and then larger, ways if proposed plans come to fruition.

The Tax Increment Finance Authority, or TIFA, and City Council met jointly Jan. 16 to hear a report from a planner hired by TIFA to provide some ideas for development along the Nautical Mile and the TIFA district. 

“Some age (is) now beginning to show in the (Nautical) Mile,” said TIFA Chairman Richard Widgren. “We felt that there was some refreshing that was necessary.”

He said the goal is to look at some smaller, affordable projects to make changes on the Nautical Mile immediately that would be able to translate into larger developments and changes for the area in the future.

Andy Knight, a principal with MKSK, the planning and architecture firm hired by TIFA, said that short-term projects could help residents and visitors see the “momentum building” toward the long-term project goal of connectivity, walkability and environmental stewardship. He said they want to help the city make the “connection between Jefferson (Avenue) and the water.” 

The planners focused on three areas for immediate improvement: the area of 10 Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue, Wahby Park, and Blossom Heath Park and Pier. A combined sewer project planned for the area near the Nine Mile Pier made that a prohibitive area for short-term projects.

An online resident survey received 850 responses, Knight said. Respondents said they enjoyed the food truck rally at Blossom Heath Park and events like the Aqua Freeze Festival. 

“They’d like to see more of that,” he said. “More of the activities within the park and better access to the water, too. That’s one of the things that we’ve heard, is getting better access to Lake St. Clair.”

“Your waterfront doesn’t have the normal ‘main street’ complement to it,” said Joe Nickol, a senior associate with MKSK. “Jefferson ... it’s more built to get you through St. Clair Shores very quickly than to create a reason or means why you should stop there for any period of time.”

The company proposed creating some temporary bike lanes and temporary on-street parking to take the avenue from four or five lanes down to two or three lanes of traffic to “slow traffic down so you can see the energy,” Nickol said. 

Knight said that, to begin with, the change would occur at off-peak times and during special events when the city would want those traveling through the Nautical Mile to slow down and see what is happening, perhaps pulling into on-street parking to join in.

“You’ve got a lot of development potential. There’s a lot of ‘missing teeth’ along this stretch of Jefferson,” Nickol said. 

MKSK also proposed adding wayfinding signage near Blossom Heath Boulevard and the Nine Mile Pier to tell drivers what amenities are in the area and where to find the lake, parks and fishing piers. Bicycle routes, patios and food trucks near places like Baffin Brewing Co. could also draw visitors, the company proposed.

“This actually gets very easy to set up and take down,” Nickol said. “Those temporary installations can transition into permanent infrastructure.

“You  can see how this district can transition from a highway that cuts you off from the water (to one that) welcomes you to your water.”

MKSK also proposed bringing more events to Wahby Park, potentially adding a market hall either in the parking lot or on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Blossom Heath Boulevard to hold the farmers market and for party rental. By doing so, Nickol said, it could draw more people into Blossom Heath Park as well. 

“A lot of the feedback that we’ve gotten is a desire to have access to a beach and to water,” Knight said. “We’re wanting to expand on this with infrastructure that you already have.”

MKSK proposed three phases of revitalization for Blossom Heath Park. The first would renovate the existing bathhouse to make it into more of a social club, possibly with a bar area on the roof where visitors could get concessions, relax and even play family games. The second phase would revitalize the beach area by separating the sand from the water so that it could be utilized, and also installing culverts or bridges along the road to the U.S. Coast Guard station to promote circulation and, hopefully, eliminate some of the toxicity of the water by doing so. Kayak and canoe rentals could expand the recreational opportunities in the summer, and an ice skating rink could be built west of the bathhouse in the winter. 

The planners also proposed extending out the Blossom Heath Pier so that there could be a protected area on its south side for kayaks and water taxis.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here, and we’ve just begun to suggest some of those options,” Knight said. 

No decisions were made at the meeting, but Widgren said he hopes that TIFA can meet again soon to come up with some “quick hits” that could be put in place soon “so (when) spring hits, we have some of these in place.”