Envisioning a new avenue

MARQUETTE – A variety of specialty businesses, green space, improved parking and other attractions are what community residents and leaders say they want for Baraga Avenue.

The Marquette Downtown Development Authority is the recipient of a MIplace Initiative Grant for redesign assistance for Baraga Avenue from Third Street to the lakefront. To kick off public discussion about the project, stakeholders met Thursday at the Commons for a visioning session to discuss plans for that redesign.

“The funding right now is not there for the development, but I think we’re probably looking at maybe 2015, 2016 for the project itself,” DDA Executive Director Mona Lang said.

Representatives from Michigan State University Extension in Marquette County, the Michigan Municipal League and MSU conducted the session to solicit community input.

Baraga Avenue is home to an eclectic mix of retail – including Dead River Coffee, Everyday Wines the Marquette Baking Company and Garden Bouquet and Design – as well as the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum.

It’s also disconnected from Washington Street – a main shopping corridor – which was a concern expressed by some of the participants.

How to attract more people to Baraga Avenue is one of the goals of the “placemaking effort.”

“Its goal is to create a destination as defined by those living there,” Brad Neumann of MSU Extension said of placemaking.

Baraga Avenue becoming more of a destination encompasses many factors, according to comments made by its business owners and other stakeholders.

Warren Rauhe, director of the Small Town Design initiative and the Community Design Initiative at MSU’s School of Planning, Design and Construction, said the lake gives an important character to Baraga.

“That’s a focal point,” Rauhe said. “You go right down the avenue. You go straight to the lake. That’s a very, very strong design concept to keep in mind.”

In fact, when participants were asked to list what they liked about the avenue, the view of the lake was at the top of the list, with preservation of that view important.

Also on the list of likes were the specialty businesses, the absence of graffiti, the building facades and the industrial feel.

When asked what they were sorry about regarding Baraga Avenue, participants mentioned power lines, the lack of a connection between Baraga and Washington Street, the lack of businesses on the north side of the avenue and the perpendicular parking that causes conflicts between motorists.

Participants also were asked what they want to see along Baraga 15 years from now, and their answers included green space, green roofs, distinct businesses, a parking lot that would catch run-off, public art and benches.

Marquette resident Mike Beck mentioned bicycle transportation to Baraga as another issue, pointing out the city has great path networks, but they bypass businesses and Baraga Avenue.

“So, do all parents drive their children to the children’s museum? And I think they probably do,” Beck said.

Jake Fether of Marquette said, because he is interested in city planning, and often visits the Marquette Food Co-op, which – at least until its planned move to Washington Street this spring – is located on Baraga.

“I’d like to see the (power) lines taken out, buried,” Fether said. “It feels really cluttered, especially on the south side.”

Fether also said he wants to see the sidewalks widened.

Kim Smith, proprietor of the brightly colored store, Garden Bouquet and Design, said it’s “exciting and encouraging” the city is focusing on Baraga Avenue as a central gathering spot. She said she believes in progress, development and modernization, but also honoring the area’s history.

“It’s retro with a modern twist, and modern with a retro twist,” Smith said, “and I think Baraga Avenue can do that too.”

Smith said Baraga could be a model street containing specialty shops where people can get a coffee, and then buy a bouquet of flowers and wine.

“It creates an experience, instead of just shopping for shopping’s sake,” Smith said. “It’s a tactile experience.”

Rauhe said the timeline for the project involves an April 29-30 design charrette at a site to be determined in which groups will be able to interact with the design team and a public drop-in session will take place. A final presentation will be made sometime in June or July, followed by the delivery of a final report in July or August.

Lang said a Facebook page about the Baraga project where people can provide input is in the works.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.