Downtown Alpena’s latest placemaking project transforms an alley and turns it into a destination

What’s happening: After a successful trial run last summer, downtown Alpena has once again reimagined one of its alleys as a destination, complete with benches, fresh flowers, and live music programming. And, perhaps most importantly when it comes to this particular brand of placemaking, the alley has been closed to automobile traffic.

What it is: The alley in question runs parallel between Chisholm and River streets, and connects Second and Third avenues. Work to repair and beautify the alley began last year; the alley closed to automobile traffic again this July, and will remain so through Nov. 1. It is expected that the alley will remain car-free each summer for the foreseeable future.

Making the alley a pedestrian-friendly destination is something that both the neighboring business owners and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) wanted to see happen, says Kady Gehrke, marketing and outreach coordinator for the Alpena Downtown Development Authority. Live music programming is provided by the Alpena Street Performers organization. And the DDA is currently applying for grants that could help fund public art projects in the alley in the years to come.

What they’re saying: “Alpena is kind of unique in that we have a lot of artistic things happening all over our downtown area,” Gehrke says. “There’s one of our big murals near the alley. And with the outdoor seating installed — it allows the opportunity for bands to come in and now we have even more spaces for people to enjoy that. It’s also part of our social district.”

Fresh Waves: Lending credence to Gehrke’s point about Alpena being a destination for the arts, the Lake Huron community is poised to watch Canadian artist Tim Nijenhuis paint a large mural on the side of 228 S. Third Ave. throughout the month of August. The mural is a result of Fresh Waves: The Downtown Alpena Mural Project, an initiative that the DDA began in 2019. The Nijenhuis mural will be the fifth large-scale mural to come as part of the project, with 12 smaller murals also having been completed.

Why it’s important: “This project has been a very uplifting thing for the community here. We’re taking empty spaces and creating something that wasn’t there before,” Gehrke says. “People here seem to really love it and people from other communities are coming to see the murals, too. And now that we have an international artist coming, we’re bringing people from far away places. It’s very exciting to see.”