November 23, 2011 - Business owners, community leaders and concerned citizens got a first hand look at the beginning concepts of the new streetscape project being designed for downtown Oxford on Wednesday, Nov. 16.
Rod Arroyo, vice president of Birchler Arroyo Associates and Sue Grissim, the director of operations for Grissim Metz Andriese Associates, presented their basic concepts and drawings during a Nov. 16 open house at ArtCapsule Gallery & Frame.
"These are all just concepts. They are not finalized in any way," Arroyo told the crowd. "They are merely here in order to start the conversation so you can tell us what is important."
"We haven't decided anything yet, and that is the reason we are holding this open house," Oxford Downtown Development Authority Director Madonna Van Fossen added. "We need the input here from everybody so this plan is reflective of all of Oxford. That is critical for our success, especially when we go for funding with whatever we decide to do."
Arroyo said the plan for the streetscape was to make downtown feel as safe and pedestrian friendly as possible.
The emphasis would be first placed on improving the overall downtown area of the DDA district before branching out and redoing the north and south ends of the district.
"You want your core to be as solid as it can be, and then establish a framework and build that out and ultimately continue," Arroyo explained. "Improving the appearance of the downtown streets (and) trying to establish a quality image where you have landscaping, hardscape (and) signage that is geared towards the pedestrian and is all part of that overall concept of making this a pedestrian-friendly location."
Arroyo said he would like to make downtown a place that "encourages pedestrians to explore."
Arroyo envisions downtown having a landscape barrier between the traffic on Washington St. and pedestrian traffic.
Oxford resident Danielle Schafer loved the idea of adding a landscape barrier and felt it would enhance the downtown appeal. "Putting a barrier between (the sidewalk and) the street, whether it's a plant or whatever, it would definitely make us feel safer," she said.
According to Grissim, the idea for the barrier is something that would be "timeless, not a trendy design."
"We wanted to make that edge all-time classic, gorgeous and we want to establish character," Grissim added.
In addition to the landscape barrier, Arroyo would like add lighting for the purpose of showcasing the buildings at night.
The initial concept would be for an artistic design with bowls at the top and base for seasonal flowers, which would incorporate lighting at the very top to illuminate the downtown buildings at night.
"This is one of the concepts that we are very excited about," Arroyo explained. "Actually incorporating lighting into the streetscape plan so that the facades of the buildings are softly illuminated at night so you can show off the incredible architecture you have downtown," he said.
He added the idea was get pedestrians to move their eye level up.
"You should be very proud of the landmark buildings you have here, and by softly lighting that at night and illuminating it. It would be something you don't find really in any other community in southeast Michigan," Arroyo said.
Ideally, Arroyo would also like to place signals on Washington St. at Stanton and Dennison, East St. and Mill St.
He would also like to see a traffic signal at the intersection of Pontiac St. and W. Burdick, and see a pedestrian crossing signal in front of the Village Offices.
According to Arroyo, one of the concepts Grissim Metz provided was to repaint the back of the buildings in order to have a more uniform look to them. "Obviously, with heavy truck traffic, the rear of the stores are very important in downtown Oxford."
Oxford resident Gary King agreed.
"The front is great and it sells the stores, but we as consumers and people that use downtown go in the back and we use the back of the buildings," he said. "I haven't gone in the front door in five years, it's not necessary. You park in the back. Every business here in downtown in the quadrants, you can enter in the back of their stores."
When asked about the rest of the downtown district that extends beyond the downtown area, Arroyo said he envisions having gateways along the north, south, east and west entrances into the downtown.
The gateways would help people recognize they are entering the downtown area.
"The idea for the gateways would be to incorporate concept designs developed for the core area of the downtown and bring some of the experience out," Arroyo said.
He added he did not know whether the gateways would be an arch-type structure like the Polly Ann Trail bridge, or if they would be signs with landscaping built up around it.
T.J. Miller, a store manager for Main Street Bicycles, was intrigued about the possibility of the gateway idea and was looking forward to obtaining more information about it.
Rep. Brad Jacobsen said he had mixed feelings about the idea of gateways welcoming people to downtown Oxford.
"If they are talking about building some kind of archway on the south end of town, I don't see that happening," he said. "A gateway with some kind of entrance on either side with maybe some pillars (saying) welcome to Oxford, something to liven up what we have I think would be exciting.
Robert Martin, who serves as a trustee on the Oxford Board of Education, said he wasn't too concerned about having a pedestrian gateway. "I think if you are walking you can pretty much feel when you enter into the downtown area," he said.
ArtCapsule owner Rob Leland asked Arroyo if he could give a realistic timeline on the streetscape project.
According to Arroyo, if everything went according to plan and took place in a timely manner, people wouldn't start seeing construction until sometime in 2015 or 2016.
"The first part is getting that concept down and getting that approved where everybody is on the same page," Arroyo explained. "We would anticipate that is going to be another five or six months before everything is complete and we are ready to move onto the next stage."
"Once we have that down and design plans can be developed and move on to the next level, then you are actually applying for your grant opportunities," he continued. "So potentially you would see something funded, in the most ideal situation by 2013. And then you go into the detail construction drawings, which would probably be another year, and then construction after that."
According to Van Fossen, the concepts and drawings will be available for the public to view at the DDA office and Parks and Recreation Office located at 22 W. Burdick. After viewing, people can either fill out a survey form or go on-line to www.surveymonkey.com/s/oxfordrocks and let their thoughts be known by Nov. 30.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.