After years of decaying streetscapes, unsafe parking options and failed small-scale rehabilitation attempts, the city of Fenton, Mich., decided to fully invest in their downtown area.
“The sidewalks downtown were many years old,” Daniel Czarnecki, public works director of Fenton, said. “They started getting cracks, there wasn’t any landscaping to speak of, other attempts to make things better hadn’t really worked, so the city embarked on a waybto improve downtown.”
The city put $4.7 million into the streetscape project, which took nearly six years from start to finish to complete. Given the numerous awards won and the return of businesses and people to the downtown area, it’s safe to say it’s been a success. Aside from the large financial investment, the project was able to go on without a hitch in large part due to the people of Fenton buying into and supporting the rehabilitation.
“It was challenging but just about everyone was receptive and helpful to get this done,” Czarnecki said. “Everyone realized that this was a way to improve the downtown. Businesses understood that we had to have some dust and some dirt around to make it better and, now that it’s done, they are seeing that it was well worth it.”
One of the main changes Fenton made to its downtown was to go from angled to parallel parking. The purpose of this change was safety.
“You can’t have angled parking on major streets,” he said. “If you’re backing out, sometimes it’s very hard to see the oncoming traffic.”
However, because they added parking to downtown streets that did not have it before, they were able to minimize the number of parking spaces lost.
“I think it was a wash in the number of parking spaces,” Czarnecki said. “We might have two less than before, but it’s pretty darn close.” All sorts of landscaping, trees and flowers were added in an effort to beautify the downtown area. Bricks were also laid throughout downtown, which was done for more than just aesthetic purposes.
“We put in permeable bricks so that the rainwater can wash between the bricks into the ground and not just go straight into a storm drain,” Czarnecki said. “We’ve done our best to try to get the water back in the ground.”
The city of Fenton received several awards for the project. Most notably, it was given the Award of Excellence from the Michigan Concrete Association.
Other awards the city won include the 2017 Innovation in Infrastructure Award from the Genesee County Metropolitan Planning Commission; the 2017 James F. Bliskey, P.E., Quality of Life Project of the Year Award from the Southwest Michigan Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers; the Project of the Year in the category of Quality of Life $1 million to $5 million from the Michigan Chapter of the American Public Works Association; and the GCMPC Award given to Fenton as a Special Tribute from the State of Michigan.
Plans for the project began to form in 2010, when the city did a walkability study to determine what areas were in need of rehabilitation. During this process, they also spoke to local business owners and residents.
Then, in 2011, they decided to move forward with renovating downtown, which included deciding what areas to improve and allocating the funds necessary to make those improvements.
The city received several federal and state dollars through several grants, including two awards that provided money for the beautification of the downtown streetscape. The city’s water fund paid for a new water main that went in and the rest of the project was paid for by the downtown development authority.
Ground on the project wasn’t broken until the fall of 2014. Construction continued through 2015 and then was finished in early 2016. For the project, Fenton hired two companies in the region. Its engineers were from OHM Advisors out of Livonia, Mich., and the general contractor was Champagne & Marx Excavating out of Saginaw, Mich. “Both the general contractor and the subcontractors understood that they were working in a downtown area with many people around,” Czarnecki said. “They understood that they were in a public area and acted as such. We had no issues that I know of with anyone down here working.”
Now that downtown is looking great, the city of Fenton plans to keep it that way. It is already planning future projects to improve the downtown area and has also hired a maintenance crew to make sure the plants and sidewalks are well kept.
“It made our downtown more walkable, made it more presentable, made it more of a destination for people to come and business to set up shop,” Czarnecki said. “Overall, we’re seeing an influx of the community as a whole.”