Michigan Municipal League releases PlacePlan for Marquette's Baraga Avenue

Baraga Avenue in downtown Marquette is a vibrant area filled with interesting shops and plenty of local culture. But its connection to the rest of downtown Marquette is tenuous at best. Find out how the Marquette Downtown Development Authority is hoping to change that.
Parklets, pedestrian thoroughfares, mixed-use building development, angled parking--the PlacePlan released in late November by the Michigan Municipal League for Baraga Avenue in Marquette is extensive and leaves no stone unturned.

The Marquette project, which involved multiple community meetings and input from residents and business owners, focused on the blocks of Baraga Avenue downtown between Third Street and Lakeshore Boulevard. Though no longer separated physically from downtown by railroad lines, this area of the city is still a barrier for pedestrian activity due to an uninviting streetscape and breaks in the city's urban fabric.

Mona Lang, executive director of the Marquette Downtown Development Authority, says the process used by the MML and Michigan State University's School of Planning, Design and Construction was excellent.

"We had really good attendance at the meetings," Lang says. "I thought the consultants from MSU did a great job in engaging the community."

The process was led at the state level by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Key elements of the design plan include the creation of better connections to surrounding neighborhoods and businesses, the redevelopment of underutilized parking lots into commercial/residential buildings and a reinvestment in historic Father Marquette Park on South Front Street nearby, as well as a reconfiguration of on-street parking to improve safety and accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians.

A major concern was the parking along the road, which community members felt took up too much space and made parking and pedestrian activity along the road dangerous.

In the plan, the current perpendicular parking is replaced with angled parking, opening up more public space along the sidewalk and allowing businesses to develop indoor/outdoor cafe space.

Parklets were suggested for a few spaces during the summer months, while in the winter the parklets could be removed, allowing for easy snow removal.

Connecting Baraga Avenue to the rest of the downtown Marquette area--namely Washington and Third streets--was also a vital part of the plan.

"It's very important to connect that to the rest of the downtown," Lang says. "We're in no way finished with that process either. Like many cities, our downtown has some unique areas within the whole district. The challenge is to tie them together, yet allow them to retain their uniqueness."

To accomplish that, the plan places an emphasis on future mixed-use development of the two blocks as a key to help identify the true entry to downtown Marquette. 

The plan also calls for a parking deck which would service existing and new business on Baraga Avenue, along with two pedestrian thoroughfares connecting Baraga to Spring Street and the rest of downtown.

Lang says her favorite aspect of the plan was the addition of outdoor space for people to gather.

"I like the idea of the green space, the pedestrian amenities, really the idea of retaining the character of Baraga Avenue but yet connecting it with walkways through the other areas, especially to Spring Street," she says.

In a press release issued by the MML, Lang says completing the entire plan could encompass more than $1 million in projects.

She cautions the plan is just that, however--a plan, not a definitive document that required action. Rather, the plan gives an outline for how to move forward with development of the area.

"Some of it, obviously, it's a plan, it's not a project," Lang says. "It's really a vision. Some of what is there, it could take 30 years to develop."

The full document includes sections on environmental sustainability, entrepreneurship, multiculturalism, transportation, messaging and technology, education, cultural economic development and physical design and walkability. It's online in its entirety here.

Jackie Stark is a freelance writer in Marquette, Michigan. You can find her on Twitter @LoveTheYoop
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