Just like in the majority of other Michigan cities and townships, funding is tight in Trenton for community improvement projects.
But the Downtown Development Authority has been able to push ahead with a variety of efforts thanks to receiving some timely grants and taking other creative approaches, including soliciting some hands-on help from residents.
A prime example of community involvement occurred Sept. 30-Oct. 1, when city employees teamed up with community volunteers to help assemble a new playscape at Slocum-Truax Park.
Other improvements that were at least partially or fully funded by grants included the paving of two municipal parking lots and additional shoreline improvements at Ellias Cove. Similar projects on the horizon include street-lighting enhancements throughout the downtown and the creation of a fourth street-end park on the south side of Riverside Commons, the new name for the former Riverside Hospital site.
“We continue to make progress,” DDA Chairman Robert Howey said. “It’s definitely slower than we’d like but we’re excited to see some positive things happening.”
The creation of a the new playground at Slocum is the latest effort to come together. The park was used as a temporary staging area for equipment and materials when a major downtown sewer improvement project was conducted around 1999-2000. It was partially restored later, but the restoration was never completed.
Bolstered by $50,000 in funds from a community development block grant and the DDA, the city was able to purchase a new playscape. While the grant paid for the playscape, there were minimal additional funds available to assemble and landscape it.
The Parks and Recreation Department, which spearheaded a “Community Build” of a new playground at Teifer Park a few years ago, opted to take the same approach at Slocum. Joann Perna, the department’s assistant director, said community support for the project was strong.
Scott Church, the assistant city administrator and director of the DDA, said additional CDBG funds were directed into the repaving of the city parking lot at the corner of Elm Street and Jefferson, as well as the public lot that services the boat launch at Rotary Park.
The total project to pave both lots was $136,000.
Church explained the DDA funds used for the project were from an accrued fund balance that had accumulated from prior years, and not the general fund. “There is so little general fund money available for projects such as this.”
Work also recently was completed on a multi-phase shoreline restoration project at Ellias Cove, which was a section of the Detroit River along the shore of Meyer-Ellias Park. The area used to be referred to as the “Black Lagoon” because many pollutants from the former McLouth Steel operation settled there and made the water in that area look black from above.
Clean Michigan Initiative Funds totaling $28,500 were used to plant new vegetation just offshore, in and around the area where the sediments were removed.
The planting follows previous phases that included a $9.5 million federally funded effort to remove the polluted sediments and another $113,000 in shoreline restoration work, which also was paid for with federal money along with a partial DDA match.
“One thing we couldn’t do then was the fish plantings, which is needed to try and restore the natural habitat to encourage fish spawning,” City Administrator Bob Cady said. “The goal is to roll back the clock. It think they are trying to recreate what that would have been there before industry.”
Looking toward the near future, sometime in the next three to six months the city will be converting all of the antique-style downtown street light posts to lower-cost, higher efficiency LED lighting. The majority of the project is expected to be funded with a $76,000 state grant awarded as part of the Advanced Lighting Technology Demonstration project, which is utilizing funds from Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant money awarded through the Michigan Energy Office.
Cady said the project might possibly get additional money from the fund as well.
“We were told our project was good enough that if there was any unspent money, we would get it,” he said. “We’ll be converted to LED and will save money on maintenance and energy cost.”
The cost-savings that will result will allow the city to recoup its out-of-pocket investment in less than a year.
“Long-term it’s one of those projects you can’t afford not to do,” Church said.
A little bit further off is a plan to repave Truax from West Jefferson east to the river, and create a small park at the street end. This $115,000 project is actually part of the Brownfield Redevelopment Agreement between Trenton’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and NABA Management LLC, the company that is redeveloping the former Riverside Hospital site (see related article).
Consequently, the cost is factored into the total $2.2 million brownfield agreement and ultimately will be paid by new tax revenues generated by the revitalization and reuse of the site. It is expected to be done near the end of the project, which is estimated to be about two years off.
Cady said the city also will be working to improve wireless Internet access through the downtown area by adding more Meraki Repeaters, which are devices that bounce the Internet signal from its source to extend its range. Each device, which is strapped to a light post, has a range of about 500 feet.
The source of downtown Trenton’s WiFi originates at the Police Department, which is at the corner of Jefferson and Maple. Currently the signal is available north to about Harrison Road. Cady hopes to see the range extended up to the Riverside site. Wifi is funded by the DDA at a cost of about $500 a year.