City workshop focuses on future
HANCOCK — Dozens of Hancock residents weighed in on the city’s future as part of a master plan open house Thursday.
Progressive AE, the planning firm helping draft the city’s master plan, led the workshop. They had previously led two workshops in early April.
Hancock is conducting its five-year update of the master plan, which outlines the city’s priorities and helps guide future development in the city.
The public comments play a “tremendous role,” said James Kilborn, an associate planner with Progressive AE.
“As outsiders, we don’t know the community,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we don’t know. So really it’s hearing from the residents, the people who live here day in and day out, their experiences and what they want to see for the future.”
Thursday’s session was more open-ended than the April meetings. About thirty people came to the two-hour session immediately, with more people coming and going throughout the two-hour event.
“I think the turnout has been great so far,” Kilborn said about a half-hour into the session. “I’m really encouraged by that.”
Displays were set around in a circle in the seating area of the Orpheum. People could use stickers to signal their stance in a variety of formats.
In the “Connectivity and Community” section, they could place their sticker along a line accompanying each proposed objective for the master plan, where the far right edge signaled full approval. For “Increase connectivity between neighborhoods and to the regional trail system,” nearly all stickers were clustered in the far right, with a handful around the midpoint.
At another station with a large city map, people could affix stickers of amenities — parking, outdoor dining, slower traffic — on the parts of the city where they thought needed improvements. Sometimes multiple people converged on the same idea, such as adding a pedestrian crossing at Quincy and Ravine streets.
People could also use sticky notes to elaborate on their ideas.
On the city map, one person recommended converting the former Paavo Nurmi Center into a possible city-run community center with child care, gym, a pool and community events.
One board asked people to outline their vision for the ice arena property, which the city purchased from Houghton County earlier this year. Public meeting spaces were one idea; other people suggested a mountain biking training facility, pool or winter snow play area.
City Manager Mary Babcock was pleasantly surprised by the positive reactions to the city’s proposed goals.
“Overall, I think people have a good feeling and a good attitude towards the city,” she said.
Some of the possible ideas, such as converting downtown streets to two-way, would take many years to happen, if at all, Babcock said.
A question on “consider street redesign to encourage a vibrant and walkable downtown environment” drew responses across the spectrum, as did questions about parking and mobility in downtown on a separate panel.
Revitalizing Hancock’s downtown is the biggest issue, Babcock said. The city is trying to fill vacant storefronts, as well as work with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to renovate the former Risto’s Hardware building at 224 Quincy St.
“If we could get some change in that area, I think it would change the whole atmosphere downtown,” she said.
Babcock was also encouraged by the Hancock Business and Professional Association, which has doubled its membership in the past year.
“We’re happy to see that, and working with them just creates a better atmosphere all the way around,” she said.
Austin Jordan, who works at the city campground, said the night’s event was a way to help contribute to the city.
He likes the strong music community in the area and wants to see the city take steps to encourage it, such as adding more performing spaces. He would also like to see more public waterfront access, including walking paths.
“Compared to other areas, the water access is a bit poor in Hancock,” he said.
From here, Progressive AE will prepare a report summarizing the feedback from Thursday’s event and the two in April. The planners will then work that into their latest draft of the city’s master plan update, which it plans to bring to the Planning Commission in October to November.
Babcock said the draft would be brought to a special Planning Commission meeting in November. Copies will be available at city hall and on Hancock’s website. A public hearing will be held at the end of November.
“That public hearing would be the best time for people to bring forward any objections or any changes that they might seek, but we are really hoping that what is up tonight will be incorporated and it’ll be a good product when we get it in November,” Babcock said.
Once approved by the Planning Commission, the draft will go to the City Council, which will consider it after the public comment period. It is hoped to be adopted sometime in December.