About 20 people brainstormed ideas for a pocket park in downtown Saline Thursday night.
The listening session held at Carrigan Café was one step in the process to beautify Merchant Park – which at the moment is a non-descript walkway connecting Dan’s Downtown Tavern and other businesses with Municipal Parking Lot 1.
The property is owned by the Bill Kinley’s property company, Phoenix East LLC, but leased by the city for $1 a year until 2047. As part of the lease, the city provides routine maintenance.
In 2015, Saline City Council voted 4-2 to improve the small strip of property as part of the recent downtown streetscape project. The plan derailed when members of Saline Presbyterian Church learned the city planned to move the restaurant dumpsters from its current location to a new area behind the church. Members of the church complained to city council and the plans were shelved.
More than three years later, talk of improving the plaza has resumed.
“If you look at the area, it’s a little down and not very pleasing aesthetically. It certainly doesn’t represent what you’d expect to see in downtown Saline,” said Rebecca Schneider, who leads Main Street’s design team.
Mayor Brian Marl has mentioned improving the small town square several times this year. This time around, the city wants to be sure everyone was invited to the table at the beginning of the process.
“Mayor Marl emphasized the importance of outreach,” Schneider said. As a result neighbors and stakeholders were invited by mail, through social media and by telephone and visits from Schneider.
Many neighbors were in attendance Thursday, offering ideas and talking about what they’d like to see. Others who couldn’t attend relayed their ideas ahead of the meeting.
The plaza is named for the late Bob Merchant, a farmer-turned-real estate agent who helped develop Saline’s tax base. One of the first topics of the discussion was the name. Main Street Director Holli Andrews noted that the name “Merchant Park” gives the impression that it’s named for downtown merchants.
One guest suggest “Bob Merchant” Park or Plaza.
At the outset of the meeting, the split into pairs and small groups to brainstorm the functionality of the park. Among the ideas were public art, a poetry or music stage, green space, games (like chess and checkers), tables and chairs for dining, Wi-Fi and more. Others saw an opportunity to create a small town square and gathering place.
This will come with a cost, of course. Andrews estimated improvements might cost $100,000. She said Kinley has pledged $20,000 and the city has pledged $30,000. Schneider the $50,000 can be used to acquire matching grants.
At some point, the issue will end up before city council again. Mayor Brian Marl and councillors Janet Dillon, Heidi McClelland and Christen Mitchell all participated in Thursday’s activity. Dillon serves on the Merchant Park Project Committee.
“I was excited to see the high level of community participation at tonight’s listening session. It was also very encouraging that the ideas were realistic and pursuable. I’m looking forward to enhancing this area to be another gathering point in downtown,” Dillon said.
(Correction: The article originally stated the plans were opposed by members of Trinity Lutheran Church. In fact, it was Saline Presbyterian Church.)