The Plan

Click the following links to review the conceptual design plan, which was created after extensive public input and approved by the DDA board in late 2022.

Part 1: Intro

Part 2: Conceptual Design (large file, please be patient while it loads!)

Part 3: Appendix

Part 4: Feedback Results

Public Engagement

A riverwalk/plaza along the river in the heart of downtown was identified as a top priority in the Lower Boardman River Unified Plan, a multi-year process in which the community worked diligently to develop a plan for the 1.6 miles of the river that wind through downtown (see more in FAQ below). That process included two large community workshops, more than 20 pop-up meetings at various public venues throughout the city, eight focus group/stakeholder meetings and two online surveys, marking an incredibly comprehensive public engagement effort.

Once the conceptual design process for a riverwalk was launched, it was supported by further public engagement including several additional stakeholder group meetings, a well-attended open house along the river, a detailed survey and feedback gathered on the design.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the conceptual design plan for?

In April of 2022, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), initiated a process to develop a conceptual design for a riverwalk and pedestrian plaza along the alley of a two-block stretch of the Boardman/Ottaway River in downtown. The goal is to repurpose the alley into an interesting and unique place for people to gather and interact with each other, and also engage with the river, surrounding businesses and adjacent public spaces. This was a top priority of the recently adopted Boardman River Unified Plan. These placemaking and pedestrian amenities must exist within the context of a working alley.  

Where is the project area? 

The conceptual design includes the alleys along the river behind the 100 and 200 blocks of Front Street. The 100 block of Front Street is framed by Union Street and Cass Street and is home to stores and restaurants including Boyne Country Sports, Kilwins and Mackinaw Brewing Company. The 200 block of Front Street is framed by Cass Street and Park Street and is home to stores and restaurants including Sparks BBQ, Toy Harbor and the State Theater. 

Why are we creating a conceptual design plan for this section of the river?

The Boardman/Ottaway River has continuously served as the center for human activity in the Grand Traverse region. As early settlement and industrial development around the river expanded over the 19th century, much of the built environment near and along the river either “turned its back” to the river or were relegated to less than desirable land uses or forgotten spaces. 

In many places along the river, the legacy of that early built environment still exists today – retail and commercial buildings face away from the river, surface parking lots and concrete walls line areas along the river, public access is limited, old concrete slabs and infill material protrude from the riverbank and underground utilities and infrastructure lie precariously close to concrete retaining walls. Despite its prominent role in defining the trajectory of much of Traverse City’s past, the river’s place within the urban fabric of downtown Traverse City today is not well defined and feels disconnected.  

Over the last 20 years, the City of Traverse City and Downtown Development Authority have implemented a handful of boardwalk and pedestrian bridges projects along the river. While these well-intentioned projects provide additional access to the river, the disjointed network lacks cohesion and fails to properly connect the river corridor with downtown. 

In 2018, noting the lack of a comprehensive vision and plan for the river corridor and increasing development pressure along the river, the Downtown Development Authority initiated a planning effort to develop a Unified Plan for the Lower Boardman/Ottaway River. The Unified Plan provides the framework and blueprint for significant pedestrian, placemaking and habitat restoration efforts along the river, supporting a long-held desire for downtown to “turn and embrace” the river. 

Who Is leading this planning effort?

The DDA is leading the development of the conceptual plan for the riverwalk and pedestrian plaza. The DDA hired Inform Studio to assist in developing the conceptual plan. Based out of Detroit and Chicago, Inform Studio has assembled a dynamic team of urban designers, placemaking and mobility experts, architects (structural, lighting & landscape), engineers and community engagement specialists from four national and local firms. Inform Studio and its project partners have developed unique, dynamic and sustainable public spaces in cities across the United States.    

Who will approve the conceptual design once it’s completed?

The Conceptual Design Plan will be approved by the DDA Board of Directors and the City Commission. 

How much will It cost and how will it be paid for?

The final conceptual design will include a detailed cost estimate. Once the final costs are determined, the DDA will explore a variety of options to fund the construction of the riverwalk and pedestrian plaza.    

Once the conceptual plan is complete, when will construction begin?

The construction of the riverwalk and pedestrian plaza can only begin once the DDA has determined the full cost of the project. Funding for the project would then need to be approved by the City Commission. 

I heard the city is already doing significant work in the alley, including realigning the existing sewer main and reconstructing the Cass Street bridge. How will these projects impact the riverwalk and pedestrian plaza?

The City is anticipated to realign the existing sewer main in the alley along the 100 Block in October of 2022. In addition, the City is scheduled to reconstruct the Cass Street Bridge in the spring of 2023. The design team will take into account the physical impacts of these two projects in the development of the  conceptual design. In addition, these two projects will be completed prior to construction of the riverwalk and pedestrian alley.

Are you going to remove all the parking? If so, where would it go?

The conceptual design process will identify how parking will be addressed along the river. The DDA understands that removing parking along the river has implications for parking and business access throughout Downtown.