Public space forum discusses past, present, future of Farmington

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published October 16, 2019

 Shoppers in Farmington’s downtown, between Grand River Avenue and Farmington Road, can get groceries, home goods, clothing and more, or get a coffee and enjoy a seat outdoors.

Shoppers in Farmington’s downtown, between Grand River Avenue and Farmington Road, can get groceries, home goods, clothing and more, or get a coffee and enjoy a seat outdoors.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Downtown Farmington’s Riley Park Sundquist Pavilion stands as the community’s core gathering hub.

Downtown Farmington’s Riley Park Sundquist Pavilion stands as the community’s core gathering hub.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Road construction and streetscape enhancements on Oakland Street are one aspect of an investment in improving public spaces in Farmington.

Road construction and streetscape enhancements on Oakland Street are one aspect of an investment in improving public spaces in Farmington.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FARMINGTON — When thinking about revisualizing an entire city to increase pedestrianization, promote walkability and curate a more vibrant, community-focused environment, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” comes to mind.

Well, Farmington’s downtown wasn’t made in a day, either. It’s taken approximately 10-15 years to get to this point, and there’s still more work to be done.

With the Grand River Avenue corridor project established, the Oakland Street project on its way to completion, and the discussion around the Farmington Road streetscape progressing, Farmington officials are working to enhance public spaces in the city.

“The Farmington Road streetscape is a valuable project that the entire community has identified as a priority,” said Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Kate Knight. “It’s been at the top of our capital improvement plan, both at the city level and in the workplace, for several years.”

When the DDA hosted a public space and design discussion Oct. 1 at the Farmington Civic Theater, Knight wasn’t surprised to be met with a theater packed with residents eager to learn about how public spaces operate and how Farmington can best enhance its own public spaces.

The discussion panel included Knight, Farmington Mayor Steve Schneemann, Grissim Motz and Associates landscape architect and lead designer of some of Farmington’s streetscape projects Sue Grissim, and Birmingham City Commissioner Mark Nickita,  who is also an architect and urbanist — an expert in city planning. It was moderated by DDA President Todd Craft.

As Nickita explained at the forum, enhancing public space is, or should be, on every city’s to-do list.

“Public space and placemaking has become a criteria of high priority, and that is mostly because people are demanding it,” Nickita said. “Neighborhoods that are walkable — that have sidewalks and crosswalks and big trees and front porches — are in high demand versus ones that don’t. Downtowns are in high demand versus places that don’t have them, and the same goes for offices and recreation across the board ”

Craft said that he grew up in a neighborhood in Detroit where everything his family needed was within walking distance, and he moved to Farmington because it was starting to create that same thing.

Grissim said that beyond walkability, people want to live in a place where they can interact and be entertained.

“When you’re driving into a place you’ve never seen before, you’re looking to see where the people are,” she said. “That’s what drives it all together. We all want to be entertained. We want activity, so that’s a big component of the design to think about, getting that momentum and entertainment; then the people will come.”

With growing programming and activity at Riley Park and approximately 70 businesses that have located, relocated or invested in Farmington due to its Grand River corridor improvements, Schneemann said Farmington has that momentum.

The city has also seen its tax increment financing revenue, and from that the Downtown Development Authority budget, grow because of the investments made in the city’s public spaces.

TIF is a public financing method used to subsidize redevelopment, infrastructure and other community improvement projects.

“We have a very positive outlook on what’s to come because of TIF growth that is due, in my opinion, in direct response to the place Farmington has become over the last 10-15 years,” Schneemann said. “It’s a destination and a desirable place. Businesses want to locate here. Not only retailers, but also offices and residential. That’s all TIF-generated revenue as a result of the investment we’ve made.”

The Farmington Road streetscape project — which officials said would improve the road and pedestrian travel ways with new landscaping, bump-out parking and an island between Orchard Street and Grand River Avenue — has been approved by both the City Council and the DDA. The two groups will be sharing costs for the project. It’s slated to begin in 2021, contingent upon a state grant.

City officials are in the process of purchasing and rehabilitating the Maxfield Training Center to become a three- or four-story multifamily housing unit, as well as identifying other areas where they’d like to develop taller, higher-density buildings with uses beyond a first-floor storefront.

Schneemann also discussed the desire to build a path through Shiawassee Park that would connect with Riley Park and the rest of the downtown core.

The city’s new master plan, which takes a much deeper look at these projects and more, will be published in November. To view the full public space and design forum, search “Downtown Farmington - Design Panel Discussion” on YouTube.

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