Building A Downtown

July 13, 2007
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HUDSONVILLE — A rare historical community with no identifiable downtown, the city of Hudsonville is taking steps to convert its primary commercial corridor into a traditional downtown district.

The cornerstone of a $125,000 effort to rewrite the city's master plan is a conceptual Downtown Design Plan intended to mold

Chicago Drive
from 32nd to Cherry avenues into a traditional main street that will be more competitive with budding commercial corridors in neighboring Grandville and JamestownTownship

"The development the last several years around us has had an impact on our downtown," said Hudsonville Mayor Don VanDoeselaar. "We have an opportunity to do something that will hopefully stimulate a lot of interest. If we do nothing with our downtown, it's going to be very difficult for us to survive."

The RiverTown Crossings mall in Grandville and increased development along

32nd Avenue
near the highway — including a new Meijer store planned for neighboring JamestownTownship — has driven traffic and investment away from the city center. The Downtown Design Plan hopes to build on the downtown qualities that have allowed other communities facing similar challenges to remain vibrant and competitive. The Hudsonville downtown, however, developed without many of those qualities.

"In the classical sense, there isn't a downtown," explained Paul Sachs, management and planning analyst for the Ottawa County Planning Department. "They've got their designated shopping district, but it's an assemblage of roads with no defined street pattern. The buildings don't align themselves to create your typical downtown street — the walk-ability currently isn't there."

According to Sachs, the community of Hudsonville is disjointed because of the Pere Marquette Railway and

Chicago Drive
's M-21 highway, which splits the densely populated southern portion of the city into two roughly equal parts, preventing a downtown area from developing in the traditional sense.

The current effort hopes to unite the area located immediately south of

Chicago Drive
in a triangle bounded by
32nd Avenue
to the east and
Allen Street
to the south into a cohesive neighborhood that will also tie into the north side of
Chicago Drive

"One of the reasons we worked with Hudsonville is that to be able to work in an existing urban community with existing conditions to create a traditional downtown is pretty unique," Sachs said.

OttawaCounty provided Hudsonville with a $100,000 grant for the effort as part of its Urban Smart Growth Demonstration Project. The Hudsonville office of Nederveld Associates was tapped to create the plan, which in June was vetted by downtown stakeholders in the latest of a series of public meetings.

The initial draft met with some stiff resistance, primarily related to how infrastructure changes would affect traffic flow and individual businesses; the largest area of concern was where to locate a proposed town square.

"From a designer standpoint, the first thing we noticed as an area of concern was that there really was no gathering place or anything to bring the city together," said Rick Pulaski, senior project manager for Nederveld Associates. "We needed to create some kind of focal point. All the older cities in Ottawa County have something that they can call their downtown."

While to date conceptual, the downtown plan includes the Hudsonville Architectural Design Elements Portfolio and a proposal for a town square or village green that would be built on the current location of Crown Motors at

3640 Chicago Drive
. The town square was the most controversial point in the initial draft, in which it was located on the opposite side of
Plaza Avenue
, the location of Bob & Jeff's Auto Repair at
3440 Chicago Drive

The final draft of the plan proposes building the village green, making streetscape improvements, and redeveloping several properties to an urban model, including the relocation of four buildings, Crown Motors among them.

"We hope that a lot of this will be market-driven," said Mayor VanDoeselaar. "Once the word seeps out through the West Michigan area, we think that there will be some developers who will look at this and see an opportunity."    

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