Negaunee plans street, lighting and other improvements

Everything from a new playground to downtown car-charging stations is in the works for the city of Negaunee, the recipient of an $855,000 Revitalization and Placemaking (RAP) downtown enhancement grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

We are thrilled to receive the RAP grant. This grant will help fund a project and transform Negaunee’s downtown into an economically dynamic city core,” says Nate Heffron, Negaunee city manager. 

The RAP grant will help fund a $2.1 million streetscape project that aims to reinforce the vibrancy of downtown Negaunee, a city of about 4,500 people in Marquette County. 

Critical infrastructure projects and beautification efforts in the works include:
  •  Water, street, and sidewalk infrastructure upgrades 
  •  New lighting 
  •  Streetscape infrastructure and furnishings 
  •  Car-charging stations
  •  Development of several outdoor gathering hubs 
The new playground will be located in Jackson Mine Park along Tobin Street. A site plan is under review.

First, a plan: In the fall of 2018, the city accepted its first-ever Capital Improvements Plan, a planning document that helps to guide local communities undertaking capital investments. “Since the project was classified as ‘conceptual,’ we have been working through the proper boards, committees, and commissions to finalize the overall project,” Heffron says. 

City staff will be working with the Downtown Development Authority, Negaunee Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Negaunee Planning Commission to finalize the overall plan, which will be submitted to the City Council for adoption. Upon acceptance of the plan,  the project could start as early as next spring. The public is encouraged to attend upcoming meetings to provide input.

Work has started: Heffron says work has already begun on infrastructure — water, curb and gutter, and streets — and by the end of 2024, the downtown work may be complete. “I think you'll see what I guess you could call a major facelift,” he says. “The overall plan has been in the concept stage for several years ever since the Negaunee DDA was reactivated. We are just fortunate enough to have been awarded this transformational grant to provide the maximum positive impact downtown in one go.”

Funding: Negaunee was among 22 cities across the state that was awarded RAP funds for various projects.  Two other major funding sources for the streetscape project are the Phase-1 USDA Water Project, which will contribute roughly $359,000,  and a $224,000 Small Urban Street Grant. Additional funding of approximately $662,000 will come from various sources within the city’s budget over the next two years.
 
All funding is secure but not yet allocated, Heffron says. “The direct costs to the city Is not 100 percent known at this time and a budget adjustment will be made after bids have been reviewed and awarded for components of the project that are to be covered by the city and the RAP grant of $885,000,” he says. 

One part of the project, the USDA Water Project Phase-1, has already been bid out while the other Michigan Department of Transportation Small Urban Grant will need to follow a different process through MDOT.
 
The $2.1 million total project will focus on the two-block-long downtown. There are 53 buildings downtown, with roughly 75 percent occupancy. Some storefronts do not have occupancy but their upper levels do.

Timeline: A timeline for work will be developed upon approval of the project, Heffron says. “As it stands now, the water will be taking place in the spring of 2023. This part has already been approved and funded. If all goes well, we will also be building in the construction of some street intersections and other planning elements from the RAP grant when we pave.”

Obstacles to overcome: Negaunee has already overcome many obstacles — for instance, in the 1950s about a third of the city, built over mining sites, was forced to relocate because of the threat of cave-ins. Streets and infrastructure remain in Old Towne, which is now being safely repurposed for trails and recreation.

The challenges ahead include attracting the workforce Negaunee and other nearby cities need. “We have an issue with housing up here,” Heffron says.  We don't have enough housing to bring in new young professionals so … unfortunately, we are turning some people away from work because they can't find a home — so that's a hurdle we have to overcome.”

Although the most recent census shows Negaunee’s population is growing slightly, a departure from the trend elsewhere in the U.P, the housing shortage remains an obstacle, Heffron says.

The future: The current infrastructure and downtown work signal a promising direction for the city— a direction reflected in its new economic development publication, Moving Forward. Launched in January, the annual magazine is intended to “reach more residents with our message on what’s happening in Negaunee as it pertains to economic development,” Heffron says. The recent downtown revitalization is an example. “Our future is bright, and this (RAP) funding will help forge a new era for the city, this generation, and into the next”, Heffron says. “It will upgrade and build towards the future not towards the past.”