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Community Development Director Ben Harrington speaks at the Saline City Council Meeting on January 2022, 2024. Photo courtesy City of Saline.

The city of Saline is one step closer to adding a downtown public space for the enjoyment of its community. At its most recent meeting on January 22, 2024, the council voted unanimously to approve and enact a formal exploration and consideration of the concept using the expertise of well-known consulting agency Carlisle Wortman. The proposal was presented to the council by the city’s Community Development Director, Ben Harrington, and that exploration is now set to begin in February.

Saline Mayor Brian Marl and several council members expressed support for the proposal. “I’m very excited that we’re moving forward on this. As [Harrington] noted, this was discussed and outlined in the master plan. It was also one of three issues that was addressed by the 2023 city council when we wrote letters to our state, federal and county officials about designating some additional funds into our community. So I’m glad that we’re moving forward with this and I will be enthusiastically supporting the motion,” said Marl.

Council Member Nicole Rice added, “I think that this is a great blast into something tangible that we can start moving on. I commend you for jumping on this.”

Both Marl and Rice are referring to at least two specific characteristics of the proposal. First, the project is in direct alignment with goals identified in the city’s very recently updated Master Plan, which was led by Director Harrington. This level of alignment between long-term goals and daily projects significantly increases the likelihood of the city’s ultimate sustainability.

Second, the exploration project that was just approved, as well as the actual public space–when it comes to fruition–are both designed to be funded almost entirely through grants, rather than by taxpayers.

The current agreement with Carlisle Wortman is basically an exploration of various options for creating a downtown public space within Saline. According to the agreement, which is available on the city’s website, Carlisle Wortman will, “complete a comprehensive evaluation of existing downtown City-owned properties, a detailed plan design, 3-D modeling, and cost estimates for built-out [sic] of a downtown public space.” The agreement also includes the project’s workplan, timeline, and associated consulting fees.

Director Harrington spoke to the council briefly before the vote, referencing a comprehensive background memo that was included in the meeting’s agenda packet and which is also available on the city’s website. “The location or visioning of…dedicated public space in our downtown is one of those items that we addressed in that master plan. But it’s also something that our residents and businesses have asked for over the years very explicitly.”

Harrington continued, “We received the commitment from the Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC), for $40,000 to go for this $57,000 contract, which is about a 75/25 [percent] split with the city.” He went on to provide a brief overview of how the exploration project would progress, which will include opportunities for group conversations and project reviews with business owners, community members, and others, to ensure any development meets stakeholders’ needs.

Following the appropriate iterations with experts, community members, and other stakeholders, Harrington expects that the final design for public space will, “…have several things. It’s going to have cost estimates. It’s going to be practical and feasible. And it’s going to be something that we’re intending to take into MEDC’s grant season.” MEDC is an acronym for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation which, among other things, provides grant funding for municipal projects under a number of different programs they operate.

In other words, Harrington is saying that the final project will be carefully and specifically designed to appeal to grant funding organizations and those funds will lessen any financial contributions required of the city.

Based on Director Harrington’s work so far, the residents of and visitors to Saline have a lot to be optimistic about.

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