City Manager Waara talks Houghton improvements

The east entrance to the large parking deck in Houghton is seen from Lakeshore Drive. The city is using a water and sewer upgrade this summer to repave the road and improve the look of the street. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette by Garrett Neese)

HOUGHTON – Houghton’s $877,000 state grant for water, sewer and storm system work this summer on Lakeshore Drive will also give the city a chance to make other upgrades to the street.

“We’ve got Shelden Avenue that’s beautiful, we’ve got a waterfront that’s beautiful, and then we have this kind of alley in between,’ City Manager Eric Waara told Downtown Business Association members during a meeting last night. ‘Under the parking deck, tourists don’t want to walk in there. If you’re not from around here, you wouldn’t go under there.’

The city’s master plan discusses the importance of creating a sense of place. For Lower Houghton, which Waara has been calling “LoHo,” he said it needs to become “a place to be, not just pass through to get somewhere better.”

Ideas include widening sidewalks, which are narrow and disappear entirely in spots, such as the Mattila Lot between the Portage Lake District Library and Lakeshore Center.

Waara talked about the need for “sprinkles” such as the crosswalks, banners on the light poles and art pieces such as the murals.

Waara showed the crowd pictures of colorful crosswalk designs found in other cities. Unlike Shelden Avenue, Lakeshore Drive is not a state highway, giving the city more leeway in road design.

“One thought is, if you do something like that down there, you’ll get people walking around, ‘What does the next intersection look like?'” he said.

To reduce the unsightliness of dumpsters, they could be relocated to a central location or equipped with fences that would hide them from view.

Lighting could also be added under the deck to reduce the “tunnel” effect, Waara said.

“You look in the summertime, wintertime, during the day it looks like a cave under there, and nobody wants to go down there,” he said.

Waara said the city has the lighting, and he is talking with people about ways to use lighting, paint and reflective items to make the underside of the parking decks brighter.

The steel deck supports were originally supposed to be covered in concrete to make them last longer. That could also be used as a way to brighten up the parking deck; Waara showed the meeting a picture of a decorated pillar.

The Upper Peninsula Power Co., in addition to putting cash into the project, will be moving its lines on Lakeshore Avenue underground as part of the project. That will remove part of the habitat for pigeons, which have been a common nuisance at spots under the large parking deck.

Waara said he hopes building owners on Lakeshore would be able to make small improvements to their buildings.

“We’re not asking for facade jobs like we did on Shelden Avenue,” he said. “It’s just a little bit of paint, or a door that needs to be replaced, a window that needs to be fixed.”

Right now, Waara said, there is no dedicated way for people to get back and forth from the waterfront to the downtown. To get to and from the waterfront on Bridge Street, he said, people have to resort to walking up the middle of the road because of the lack of sidewalks. The city would like to put sidewalks down the hill, continue them onto Lakeshore Drive, put in crosswalks, and direct them to the waterfront trail.

To improve the deck entrance west of Huron Street, Waara said, a hanging sign could be added, while older signage with wear could be replaced.