On the International Day of Prayer, which fell on May 1st, otherwise known as May Day, there also fell a meeting of local bigwigs and Planning Commissions at the Ludington City Hall at 6:00 PM, scheduled to last three hours.  The Planning Commissions of the City, the County, and two townships surrounding Ludington (Hamlin and Pere Marquette), along with members of their boards and appointed administrators were invited; the public was notified that a quorum of these bodies may be attending the meeting.

It was to be the second part of what was called a Placemaking Strategy Development Workshop, funded by the MIPlace Partnership Initiative.  Looking at the 'partners' of this organization and their affiliation with LIAA at this meeting, makes one believe that the main purpose of the local officials attending the session was to qualify for future grant opportunities based on this training being passed.  There were three tests altogether, but there was no pass or fail grades.  The following was the agenda for the meeting which detailed the evening's events:

Michigan State University's Senior Educator Kurt Schindler (left) was the director for the three hours, but other agencies were also present, including one from the MI DOT, the University of Michigan, and Dusty Christensen from LIAA (right).  These experts circulated around the room during the exercises to help the four tables understand the scope of their problem. 


Educator Kurt recapped some of the things they covered three weeks earlier, and introduced some definitions, including the difference between capital 'Placemaking' and lower-case 'placemaking' (a full list PM Definitions.pdf).   Ludington City Manager John Shay went to the front to a map of western Mason County and added colored dots at locations of a few local assets (many had already been mapped, and these were reviewed:  Ludington Area PM Assets.pdf).  They briefly touched on the concept of what assets appealed to certain 'target audiences', effectively conveying that if assets appeal more to a certain demographic you will likely attract and retain more of that type of people in your community (as touched on here:  Targeting Populations.pdf). 


The second exercise involved figuring out what is missing in the downtown to make it more attractive to talented workers and visitors.  Each of the four tables were declared a small group and given this three page booklet to assess what's missing:  Whats Missing in Ludington.pdf.  The first group featured Chamber of Commerce President Kathy MacLean and the Ludington Convention and Visitor Bureau's Brandy Henderson, along with some other Ludington board members/planners.  The second group consisted mainly of township planning commission members, the third group featured Administrators of Mason County Fabian Knizacki and John Shay, and the fourth group had myself and three other miscellaneous planners. 


As you can see from the link, I did basically put checkmarks in each category, many conforming to the consensus, but I wasn't the official secretary of the group.  The only one our group officially said no to was the broadband capability, this seemed to be reflected in the other groups, but there was lively discussion, among other groups to reach that conclusion.  I was there primarily for observational purposes, so even though I participated, I did go with the group.


The main part of the night dealt with finding potential strategic Placemaking projects.  Using the previous exercise's analysis and any other noted deficiencies, each group were asked to find 3-5 potential projects to improve the status quo, keeping in mind natural physical or economic limitations.  Our table developed four over the next hour, most other tables managed to get three.  The main amount of the time involved developing the six factors for each project on the worksheet.


This was the most important result of the night; it was a chance to see what our various community leaders wanted to spend time and money to improve or alter the Ludington area.  At the hour's end each group put forth three projects, and among those eleven projects (two groups had the same project) vote for the most important.   


The first group, rife with those working for the DDA, stated these three topics all centered in the downtown:

1)  Developing the Old Bowling Alley Block

2)  Improving the North James Street Plaza Area

3)  Putting a Road Diet on Ludington Avenue Through Town (reducing a lane of traffic from each side)

The second group loaded with planners and some governing board members put out:

1)  Develop the Water Trails

2)  Develop Winter Recreation Programs

3)  Enhance the City Park area (near House of Flavors)

The third group with administrators also proposed the downtown road diet and

1)  Attract Retailers to Fill the Downtown Area

2)  Improve the Look of the Entrance from the Carferry (South James)

The fourth group (mine) proposed:

1)  Universal Wi-Fi Coverage in the Downtown Area

2)  Improving the Look of the PM Hwy/Old 31 Entrance to the City

3)  Create More Multi-use Trails for Walking Bicycling

Everybody in attendance was allowed to vote for two projects, and the votes were tallied, the winners were:

1)  Road Diet in the Downtown:  15 votes

2)  Develop the Bowling Alley Block:  10 votes

3)  Improve the Look of the PM Hwy Entrance:  6 votes

No other project got more than three votes. 

I look at the runaway frontrunner, and note the large amount of votes it received from the chamber, CVB, and Ludington officials (with the large intersection of DDA members and ex officios).  The reasons they would likely give for reducing the traffic lanes downtown would be to slow traffic to allow people to spend more time downtown, allow more room for outdoor eating and displays, create more parking, and increase bicycle/pedestrian access. 

To me, it seems an awfully risky venture; as you see from these photos from 50-60 years ago, the downtown area has historically had the five lanes of traffic downtown for the convenience of what avenues are for:  travel.  Cutting the traffic lanes down to one on each side will likely have some unintended consequences, such as people avoiding going through the downtown area.  The slower moving cars in congested traffic may only make the area less attractive for outdoor dining, and walking because of the reduction in air quality.  All other forms of traffic are likely to suffer also, including both bicycle and foot traffic, even if bike lanes are put in. 

The bowling alley block development also puzzles me.  House of Flavors magnate Bob Neal had some big ideas that never developed before he tore down the bowling alley due to structural weaknesses.  Western Land Services also dropped the ball when they planned to develop a major office building in that area and ducked out in the 2008 recession.  I know that none of the ones who proposed or voted for this would likely agree with this assessment, including those from the DDA, the Chamber or the City Councilors and Planners, but this block has been neglected because all of our local partners want to micromanage its development, the competing interests cannot agree, and it scares away potential developers, including Neal and Wilson (of WLS). 

The last effort, making Old 31 presentable along the Fourth Ward entrance to the city, basically from the top of the river hill to First Street, will more than likely fail unless they get cooperation from the private landowners of the area, which admittedly hasn't materialized for decades.  Heavy-handed, punitive zoning may work, but who wants that.

Also telling is what didn't come up at all.  Nobody mentioned anything about the West End of Ludington Avenue, or any of the seven-phased project to alter Stearn's Park that will cost millions of dollars.  The best reason is because there are a lot higher priorities, and that the area is already a shining asset, in no real need of improvement. 

The further development of our sidewalks, the maintenance of our streets, two areas of neglect, continue to be neglected.  The lack of a safe path for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel east and west along the corridor to and from the city was overlooked entirely, if not for my group. 

In the end, the venal interests of narrowing the main avenue to make travel more inconvenient won the day, and showed what kinds of interests our leaders have in making this a place to be proud of.

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I agree that reducing the number of lanes would cause not only traffic problems but pedestrian problems as well. Vehicles trying to park would block the entire flow of traffic in the direction the cars are traveling. That would be a nightmare for traffic flow. I for one would avoid downtown and would not travel through unless I have business there. People should be asking, "who the he!! are these people who are coming into town and trying to influence local decision making"? They're not here because they have a big heart or because they are charitably minded. When outsiders get hold of local decision making especially when they bring the promise of funding it smacks of the old Music Man mentality. All I can say is watch out Ludington officials. Be careful who you let into the hen house. Another fine job of reporting X. I'm glad you participated.


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