Father Marquette Park improvements getting underway

Father Marquette Park has received grant funding for accessibility and other improvements, and with the construction contract awarded Monday night, the project is getting underway as soon as possible, according to city officials. The half-acre park features a 20-foot bronze statue of Pere Jacques Marquette (1637-1675), Jesuit missionary priest and explorer, for whom the city and county are named. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee)

MARQUETTE — After years of planning, fundraising and gradual improvements, the Father Marquette Park overlooking Lake Superior on South Front Street in Marquette will get a significant makeover this fall.

The project getting underway will improve accessibility, lighting, security, irrigation and more.

Barb Kelly, vice president of the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee, said this has long been the committee’s final goal for the park, since they started with the restoration of the Father Marquette statue back in 2004.

“This has happened in stages, and we never would’ve had the money to do it all at once,” Kelly said.

The Marquette City Commission Monday evening approved a construction contract for the accessibility improvement project to low bidder U.P. Concrete Company for $142,000.

The city received a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant for $140,000 to provide access improvements to the park in 2015. The Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee raised $60,000 in local matching funds.

Kelly said the project is a little late getting underway, but they are planning a dedication of the park next summer, which will also be the 40th anniversary of the beautification committee’s existence.

“I’m just really looking forward to seeing this come to fruition, and I think it’s just going to be amazing and be a gem sitting right in the city,” Kelly said. “We really want to explore our history and showcase Father Marquette and what an extraordinary man he was, an explorer, a cartographer, he spoke seven languages — I mean he was just amazing. He came from France and he never went back home again.”

The half-acre Father Marquette Park features a 20-foot bronze statue of Pere Jacques Marquette (1637-1675), a Jesuit missionary priest and explorer, according to the city’s website. It was presented to the city in July 1898.

In 1850, a year after its founding, the village of Worcester was renamed Marquette in honor of the priest.

While the trust fund grant will only fund 70 percent of the total project cost, any funds left over from the beautification committee’s match will go toward lighting, security, irrigation and other aspects, said the city’s Assistant Director of Community Services Jon Swenson.

“The beautification committee’s already committed $60,000 so … if there’s overages there, they can potentially spend that money on the project or things above and beyond what’s in the scope at this time,” Swenson said. “What’s in this bid is primarily getting the pathway up to the top and creating the viewing area and some of the concrete that goes around the statue. … The beautification committee does have some interest in doing a few things beyond this, so it might be a good opportunity for that to happen.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Baldini said the other bids for the project, which were $280,000 to $380,000, were much higher due to the amount of construction currently underway in Marquette.

“When you see these numbers, you say, ‘Wow, what was left out?’ But the staff has done their due diligence, they feel very comfortable that the bid at that price does cover (everything) and quality is also covered,” Baldini said. “I’m happy to see this is here and I’m glad to see that they came in at ($142,000).”

He added he’s looking forward to the public art aspect of the project as well.

Kelly said Carol Fulsher, administrator for the Iron Ore Heritage Trail and member of the city’s Public Art Task Force, got involved with the project, because so many trail systems meet at the park.

“Now she has provided $30,000 for artwork for artistic benches and a gateway into the park, … marking the official entryway, which will be down more toward Lakeshore Boulevard,” Kelly said.

Other commissioners expressed their support of the project and Commissioner Mike Plourde congratulated the city on the grant award.

“Good job, I love to see grants come to the city of Marquette,” Plourde said.

Swenson said the beautification committee deserves a big thanks for their matching grant proposal, dollars, and all of their efforts.

“They’ve been at every single meeting to make this happen, so it’s a great thing for them to be involved at that level and it’s a good thing for the city,” Swenson said.

Mayor Dave Campana said the committee’s match is a generous gift and thanked them.

Chairwoman of the Father Marquette Park Committee Emily Lewis said the committee is also working on a tribute garden to the late president of the beautification committee, Tami Dawidowski, who died suddenly in March.

“I’m just happy that (the project is) going to be completed. It’s been so many years that we’ve been working on this,” Lewis said.

She thanked the city, Community Services Director Karl Zueger and his staff for their work on the project.

Kelly said the beautification committee will make sure the “irreplaceable statue” will be secure, and will fund all additional aspects of the project over and above the $60,000 grant match.

“We learned that that park was the least visited and the least maintained in the city and that just seemed very sad considering that our namesake’s statue resides there, also the namesake of the county,” Kelly said. “It’s a really beautiful site with a view of the lake and a view of the town.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.