By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspaper
ALLEN PARK – City Administrator Mark Kibby submitted a funding request to Wayne County for the American Rescue Plan Act State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund program for a major city improvement project.
Allen Park officials are asking for $5 million in assistance for the Downtown Allen Park Improvement project, which is intended to change the appearance of the city’s downtown and act as a catalyst to draw visitors and business investment to the area.
“These improvements are not just a single project, but a comprehensive collection of projects that all fit together to better align Allen Park with the overall vision for Wayne County and the region,” Kibby said in an April 10 memo to the mayor and City Council.
One component of the project would be developed on the site of the former Allen Park movie theater, in an area roughly bounded by Allen Road on the north, Park Avenue on the south, White Avenue on the west and Philomene Boulevard on the east. The proposal would include a park, an outdoor amphitheater and an enclosed pavilion, with garage style doors on the sides that can open up, to host a farmer’s market and other vendors.
During an April 11 council study session, Kibby said this is a preliminary concept from which to work.
He said the other $8.5 million is part of other projects that are already happening downtown, including the paving of Allen Road, a downtown water main replacement and street lighting from the Downtown Development Authority, which will be followed by some landscaping and park-scaping.
Kibby said there is private sector development downtown in a number of different locations, which will provide a value that can be included with the overall project, since Wayne County is usually looking for at least a 50-50 match for projects it helps fund.
He said Wayne County officials want detailed information about how the downtown area was affected by the pandemic.
Kibby said he emphasized the use of the pavilion for the farmer’s market year-round.
“If you look in this area, it is a food store desert,” he said. “Where is your location for your nearest grocery store? Probably Meijer or Kroger, and mile-and-a-half one way or a couple miles the other way.”
Kibby said there is a lack of produce and meat possibilities in the downtown area.
He said this project is similar to other projects that the Wayne County Commission has approved for ARPA and SLFRF funds.
“Outdoor public spaces were big on their activity locations,” Kibby said.
He said outdoor spaces where people can gather were prioritized.
“It is not your typical application process here,” Kibby said. “They have a pool of money left – I think they have $160 million left – and we certainly want to get $5 million of that.”
He said it looks like a recommendation comes from the county executive’s office, from the head of development, which will then go to the county commission.
Councilmember Gary Schlack said a gateway could replicate the marquee of the former movie theater, and a memorial wall or pathway of bricks could be established within the area.
“That’s the fun part, when we start thinking about what we want there,” he said.
Schlack said the project could really help establish a recognized downtown, a centerpiece, for the city.
He said noise and parking concerns are issues that will need to be worked out. He noted, though, that the existence of parking problems mean they have a thriving community.
“I don’t think we will ever necessarily be, say, Royal Oak, but we can certainly be more than we are today, and we have to continue striving forward and I think a project like this and the direction of this would really put Allen Park front and center of what we provide,” he said.
Schlack sees the pavilion as a big boon to the farmer’s market as well.
“I’m sure we could all agree that it’s pretty core to a lot of surrounding communities in metro Detroit,” he said.