A Brand New Downtown For Wyoming

April 16, 2002
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WYOMING — The City of Wyoming starts building a new downtown this month.

A portion of Rogers Plaza will be razed soon and that demolition will mark the beginning of the Town Center, a pedestrian-friendly retail area that will connect Rogers Plaza with the Wyoming Village Mall and the Studio 28 Theatres — and hopefully add some new merchants along the route.

Wyoming thinks the trio of businesses is a natural to link, as all three are situated on the south side of 28th Street SW between Burlingame and Clyde Park avenues. That stretch is considered by city officials to be the heart of Wyoming’s downtown sector. Only Michael Avenue separates Rogers Plaza from the Wyoming Village Mall. And Studio 28, the Loeks-owned 20-screen megaplex, is just to the west of the Village.

Wyoming Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Gerald Mears told the Business Journal that part of the west end of Rogers Plaza, where the Montgomery Ward department store and auto shop stood, will begin to come down this month.

Mears said the area occupied by Wards will be replaced by three attached, single-story buildings that total 85,000 square feet. One will have 50,000 square feet for a new Spartan Stores Inc. supermarket. Another will offer 30,000 square feet for a yet-to-be-named apparel store. The third will have 5,000 square feet for a use that hasn’t been determined yet.

“As part of that deal, the front façade of the mall will be redone all the way across,” said Mears of Rogers Plaza, the area’s first retail mall. “I understand that they are also going to do the inside of the mall.”

In addition, the 14-foot-wide sidewalk that rims Rogers Plaza will be extended to Michael Avenue and lined with trees and pedestrian lighting. Mears added that work on the Plaza portion of the project is proceeding at a pretty good clip because the goal is to have the supermarket open there in the fall.

But the real initiative behind the Town Center is to turn that sector into a mixed-use downtown that draws retail, office and housing, gets people safely out of their cars on one of the state’s busiest streets, and makes the most of having three powerhouses such as Rogers Plaza, Wyoming Village and Studio 28 so neatly tucked together.

To accomplish all this, the plan calls for a new 2,000-foot-long landscaped public street to be built from the west end of Rogers Plaza to Studio 28. City officials eventually hope the street will be lined with smaller buildings that contain shops, offices and maybe a few apartments. Curbside parking will also be available along the street in front of these buildings.

Part of Wyoming Village, though, will have to be razed to clear enough space to run the street to the theater. At the other end, the street will swing north from Rogers Plaza back to 28th Street.

“It promotes better access between those three big uses. Part of it is there already. You can get between Rogers Plaza and Wyoming Village Mall by the drive, but you can’t get from the theater to the other two because part of the Wyoming Village Mall blocks it,” said Mears.

The Wyoming DDA is directing the development, a pretty massive responsibility for a relatively new organization.

The DDA was formed a little over two years ago when the Chamber of Commerce and City Council felt one was needed. Both thought that a DDA would allow business owners to become more involved with the city, and also give the city a savvy group to oversee a key three-mile portion of 28th Street. Nine serve on the DDA; most have a business interests in the 28th Street area.

The DDA’s tax-capturing boundary starts along 28th Street at Division Avenue and runs west to Clyde Park Avenue. It also stretches from 300 to 1,000 feet deep on either side of that corridor. The section with the most retail and DDA tax dollars runs from Burlingame to Clyde Park, as Rogers Department Store, Rogers Plaza, Wyoming Village Mall and Studio 28 are all in that one-mile stretch.

But like other state-chartered DDAs, Wyoming can’t capture a share of property taxes that are intended for the public school system. So Mears said the DDA only gets about 18 mills a year, and most of those funds come from the city.

“It’s not a lot of money because school taxes aren’t involved. I think our plan projects about an increase of $1.5 million over 10 years,” said Mears. “We’re only about $100,000 a year in income right now. It will be right around $250,000 by the time we hit the 10th year.

“So there is a financing problem for the long-term, just using the DDA money.”

Still, the Wyoming DDA has been pretty active over the last two years. The board helped the city plan and monitor a $1 million streetscape project along 28th Street from Burlingame to Clyde Park, improvements that meant new trees, sidewalks and underground sprinklers for that section. The DDA also pays the $30,000 yearly maintenance tab for that project, and donated $167,000 to the city for lighting upgrades along pedestrian routes in that sector.

Mears said the DDA has prepared a brochure that highlights the advantages of doing commerce in downtown Wyoming, an attempt to attract new business to the city’s core commercial center. And he said board members also are hoping to finish the downtown master plan this month.

The master plan has three parts: a market study, a design study and ideas on how to implement the plan. Mears said the market study was in, and that the DDA was quite satisfied with the report.

“It mentioned a half-dozen uses that we feel this area can attract. It mentioned a large supermarket, which is what we’re getting right now at Rogers Plaza. That was right in the plan and that was done probably four or five months ago,” he said.

The study also reported that the Town Center development should be able to draw a do-it-yourself home-remodeling store, such as a Home Depot, a discount retailer like Wal-Mart, and a few more clothing shops.

“The report also suggested a farmer’s market type of concept,” said Mears. “Those were the major uses they thought the city could attract.”

Professional community planner McKenna Associates Inc. of Kalamazoo conducted the market analysis. The Gibbs Planning Group, a landscape architect based in Birmingham, is putting the final touches on the design study.

The DDA has partially finished the implementation plan, and the city is getting ready to rezone the area to create more flexibility for construction and use in the Town Center.

Building the street is expected to cost the city from $800,000 to $1 million. City officials are hoping that the rights of way will be donated because paying for those would likely exceed the price tag for the street. Those rights are owned by the malls, whose owners need to be convinced of the concept, and Studio 28, which Mears said is in favor of the idea. It’s likely the city would also pay to remove a portion of Wyoming Village for the street.

Still to be done is a detailed site plan of the project. Money also needs to be found for a public relations consultant to help persuade business owners of the potential benefits that the Town Center brings. In the meantime, the work is going forward.

“Building the 85,000 square feet at Rogers Plaza starts this month. We’re still talking with the two malls to convince them of the whole concept. I think the public, from what we’ve heard, thinks it’s a great idea,” said Mears. “But to make the whole thing happen, it is going to take time.”

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