Downtown Madison Heights defies expectations

When you think of downtown Madison Heights, a traditional “Main Street” look and feel may not immediately come to mind. But that non-traditional feel is exactly what the city’s leadership is striving for.

The city's leaders are continuing to work to create a unique, non-traditional downtown experience for residents, business owners, and visitors that emphasizes walkability, access, and community spirit.

The city's 20-year-old Downtown Development Authority footprint is a cross-shaped area of John R Road (north to Gardenia Avenue and south past I-696) and 11 Mile Road (west to I-75 and east to Lorenz Street). The city is working on updating their Tax Increment Financing Plan (TIF) and development plan to enhance the district.

Madison Heights already receives high rankings as a walkable community, meaning that residents can easily accomplish daily errands by foot. gives the city a score of 54 out of 100, or "Somewhat Walkable" overall.  But homes in the DDA district and others all along John R score as high as 76 out of 100, or "Very Walkable." That means most errands can be accomplished on foot

This doesn’t come as a big surprise to Linda Williams, Economic and Community Engagement Supervisor.

“Walkability is woven throughout our development plan to act as a catalyst to bring people and businesses to downtown,” Williams says.

To date, the DDA has completed a series of projects to create a desirable downtown, including new wayfinding signs, uniform address placards for businesses, creating a clock tower city landmark, and calling out attractions in the city by way of new signage, from parks to the public library. Moving forward, new developments requiring site plan review will be required to have pedestrian connections to city sidewalks as well as bicycle rack access. But that’s just the beginning.

A program the city is particularly proud of is their annual proactive sidewalk replacement initiative. The city now pays for sidewalk replacement in an effort to keep public walkways safe and usable for all. Each year sidewalks across the community are addressed, with pedestrians and bicyclists top of mind.

“The nice thing with this program is that we’re never not addressing our city’s sidewalks,” says James Schafer, Community Development Director.

Downtown beautification, preventive maintenance of public thoroughfares, and going after new land developments are just a few of the elements in the DDA’s latest development plan. Creative ideas, such as mixed live-work offerings, are also a desire of the DDA, too.

With all of this focus on creating a must-visit downtown for Madison Heights, Williams and other city leaders are working hard to keep the small-town feel that Madison Heights residents appreciate. With more than 30,000 residents in the city and an average household income of $41,000, according to Data USA, Williams notes that the city’s residents have a patriotic feeling for their community.

“Our boards and residents all agree that we don’t want to copy other towns,” Williams says. “If we launch a farmer’s market, it will have a Madison Heights flavor, something that will make it uniquely Madison Heights.”

Putting a Madison Heights spin on everyday projects is something Williams is proud of. A past DDA student art challenge asked participants to create a concept for a bicycle rack the city could use that would also double as public art. Not only were the winners rewarded for their ideas, their designs were turned into actual bicycle racks found throughout the city.

The DDA features a range of businesses, from restaurants offering cuisines from around the world to small, mom-and-pop businesses. The DDA is hoping that what they’re creating in the community by way of the updated development plan will continue to attract that diverse offering, especially for up-and-coming establishments.

“We’re a big city, but we’re small enough that business owners know their regulars whenever they walk in,” Williams says. “Our business community is very diverse. You can’t claim that in some other cities.”

That diversity can be seen in a business Williams enjoys visiting in Madison Heights is Mia's Bakery & Coffee Shop. Specializing in European-inspired pastries, head baker and owner Mia Nazarko offers a wide array of baked goods on 14 Mile Road

That small-town feel is what drew Kymm Clark and her husband Crosby to the city not only as residents but as future business owners. The couple's business, Clark’s Fabrication, is a custom fabrication company that grew out of Clark’s 400-square-foot garage to a 4,000-square-foot building in Madison Heights.. Clark’s Fabrication is a custom fabrication company that grew out of Clark’s 400-square-foot garage to a 4,000-square-foot building in Madison Heights.

“I’m really excited that the city is building out the downtown and bringing more excitement and youth to the area,” Clark says.

Clark is just one example of a business owner that worked with the DDA to find the best home for her business in Madison Heights.

“We’ve moved around for a bit, but now we have a home in Madison Heights,” she says. “We feel like we can put our feet down. We’re not going anywhere - this is permanent.”

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Lish Dorset is a freelance writer and crafter based in metro Detroit. Follow her on Instagram for crafty updates - @LishDorset.