February 19, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Scott Reynolds is planning the redevelopment of downtown Lake Orion.
It's for a class, not for real, but it still caught the attention of several community members who listened to his presentation on February 11, at the Downtown Developmental Authority meeting.
He calls Lake Orion a satellite community, a region that has historically survived on its own off of the mill, the dam, the Paint Creek River, downtown businesses and the lake.
"I think that a lot of the reservations of taking a place that has so much history like Lake Orion is people want to make sure that it's respected and its something we don't destroy, which I think is a very viable asset to build off of," Reynolds said. "But I think at the same time that it's a different time period so you have to say well, can we respect the history and make that into the groundings of our future developments," he said.
A born and bred Lake Orion K-12 kind of guy, Reynolds is on the DDA design committee, works for Stephen Auger Associates and Architects (SA&A Architects), and works for the village. He chose Lake Orion for his thesis simply because he is invested in the community he grew up in, works in, and plays in.
"I think the biggest idea is a diversity in amenities that appeals to all ages, including myself," Reynolds said. "People were originally drawn here because of the great woods and all the beautiful lakes. Why aren't we using that as an asset now, more than just I have a house on the lake, or I don't have a house on the lake, but rather that's our community, what else can we do with it?" Reynolds said
Reynolds pictures a downtown where one can easily get all of your errands done by foot.
This format could include a round trip of drop-offs and pick-ups: drop off your dry-cleaning. Take the kids to Greens Park for swim lessons. Pick-up a birthday gift. Pick up a coffee, newspaper and donut while waiting. Pick-up a few groceries.
The link of it all could be an iconic, pedestrian bridge, connecting the downtown business district and community to the lake, a major constituent of Reynold's thesis and design plan.
"I think the pedestrian bridge has a huge component not to just be a bridge but be as strong as what Main Street is," he said. "You look at it when go down M-24 and drive underneath it, and you go wow, that's more important than M-24, that's something important and we're known for that like an icon," he said.
DDA Director Suzanne Perreault said she had never thought of some of Reynold's concepts.
One such concept was building on vacant space fronting M-24 in addition to Broadway.
"Between Flint St. and Broadway where it kind of curves around the lake by Greens Park, there's nothing there," Perreault said. "You see the back of the Wagon Wheel. You see the back of Verwood. You see the back of AutoZone. Is there any way to make buildings touch on M-24?
Hmm, I never thought about that before," she said.
Perreault said the money could be found.
"Another key point is we need to partner with developers," Perreault said. "So if we can do that, and leverage private dollars in addition to public dollars for public amenities, then its not that unrealistic to do big development."
Say the Wagon Wheel, or a different space, was in fact developed into a three-story building. The first story could be retail, the second story could be public access to a pedestrian bridge, and the third story could be lofts for rent. If the private developer was already building the structure with an elevator, the public sector would only have to pay for the public portion—the bridge. Because it would be linking trails to the lake to the downtown district, many different grants could be applied.
Another concept that was thrown around was building shoppers docks boaters could park at and then go downtown.
"That's actually something that's in the DDA's consideration right now because it would be really easy to get the first phase of that accomplished," Village President Ken Van Portfliet said.
"We could put some docks over by the commercial building on Pelton's Point. There is village land there, to see how that works out and see where we can take it from there," Van Portfliet continued.
Docks could also be brought to Green's Park, he said.
In order to push any projects through the village planning commission and zoning board, board members will have to be open to new ideas.
"Over the last three years we've really changed our application process and our openness to new development, one of the ways we've done that is by working to be one-stop ready," Van Portfliet said. The village has put a lot of effort into making sure projects get done quicker and easier, he said.
For example, Van Portfliet said, village hall is up for sale, and already has a bid.
He also mentioned the a-frame house next to the Wagon Wheel site.
"If we would acquire that property, or if there was some type of a partnership put together with those two properties, it could really be a game changer for the village," Van Portfliet said.
"I think it has possibilities, but what it's going to take is people working together," previous Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel said. "It's going to take the entrepreneur, that person who wants to do something as well as the village being open to how can we work together, and the citizens who say this is a good idea, we're going to support it, we want to see this happen," she said.
Van Tassel said also important is the backing of the Chamber of Commerce, which just moved to the downtown, and the continued promotion of the current downtown businesses by both the chamber and DDA.
"Everyone knows about the Sagebrush, but what else is in the downtown, you need to let the people, especially in the western and southern part of the township, know what is in the downtown so they don't go over to Rochester or Clarkston," she said.
These same people in the township want better access to the lake too, Orion Area Chamber of Commerce director Alaina Campbell said at the meeting.
Although she doesn't have a developer in her back pocket, Perreault said all it takes is a little bird.
"If developers know that Lake Orion is ready to look at bigger development than they're going to be drawn to our community. If they know that this community has a vision, this community wants to move forward, here are some ideas that they considered. So maybe my idea isn't so crazy, that's how I see the partnership developing," Perreault said.
What are your ideas? Send your letters to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.