Streetscape Transforms Zeeland

October 10, 2003
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ZEELAND — A $2.2 million project to upgrade downtown Zeeland seeks to accomplish more than make things look better.

In embarking on the streetscape initiative that’s introducing a new aesthetic to the small-town downtown, the city hopes property owners in the business district will invest in upgrades to their buildings as well.

“We’re moving ahead here and creating something for the future,” said Ann Query, executive director of the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce and a member of the City of Zeeland’s Shopping Area Redevelopment Board.

“We hope it just inspires people to take new pride and ownership in their businesses so they have a more appealing look and they have a more appealing place to draw customers,” Query said.

Launched in early July and scheduled for completion by late next month, the streetscape project consists of upgrades to sewer and water utilities, burying power and telephone lines, new sidewalks, utility poles and landscaping, and the creation of a small, so-called “pocket park” with a clock tower.

The project is designed to provide more on-street parking and to improve the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

The project involved removing cement planters to provide better sight lines along the street and of building facades, creating a far more open and airy environment.

“It’s a lot brighter and lighter,” Query said during a walk through the downtown last week as construction crews worked on building facades and street improvements. “What we are doing is enhancing its appeal for customers and people who want to stroll through or shop, and for potential business opportunities.”

The streetscape initiative in downtown Zeeland expands on past efforts to upgrade the business district, where last year the city approved the removal of canopies that covered the sidewalk over a one-block area. Query said their removal better connected the middle block of the three-block district with the outer blocks, creating a more cohesive district and making it “look much bigger” than before.

To foster ideas for building owners who are considering their own upgrades, the Zeeland Shopping Area Redevelopment Board commissioned Grand Rapids architect Wayne Visbeen to draft facade styles to create a common theme and aesthetic.

Visbeen said the schematics draw on old-style and traditional architectural themes of small-town downtowns, a “back-to-basics” approach of sorts.

“We wanted to bring it back to an authentic downtown,” Visbeen said.

The architectural scheme is a foundation — not a requirement — for building and business owners to follow when they make upgrades to their properties and to stir their own ideas, Query said.

“It was to give people some idea of what we could create and kind of set the tone for what we hoped we would end up looking like,” she said.

Downtown Zeeland today consists primarily of small-town retail stores that serve local clientele and professional offices for service-sector businesses.

While the district has been healthy and enjoys a low vacancy and turnover rate, the city and the Shopping Area Redevelopment Board felt it was time to freshen up.

They believe they are establishing a new look for the business district that creates the kind of downtown environment that retail shoppers and businesses are seeking today.

“You can shop anywhere and you can spend your money anywhere,” Query said. “But what’s important to the people in a small-town downtown is the experience.”

In a broader sense, Query said the downtown business district in any small town speaks volumes about the community and quality of life to both people who live there and outsiders. This applies with particular force, she believes, to people who are considering moving or opening a business.

In undertaking the streetscape project, she said city leaders sought to make a statement about their community.

“It’s the centerpiece of the community,” she said.

“They want that image that is progressive and positive about the future.”

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