Detroit’s Spirit Plaza may not be permanent

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A year-round gathering space along the median of Woodward in the city’s downtown may not be permanent after all, officials said Tuesday.

The fate of the “Spirit of Detroit Plaza,” a curved walkway and seating area, is up in the air just weeks after Detroit Planning Director Maurice Cox had declared a three-month trial a success and that the space would become a permanent attraction.

Detroit City Council members on Tuesday scolded Cox for failing to gain the necessary approvals from the panel for the closure of Woodward between Jefferson and Larned.

“I have a complete and absolute problem with the way this was implemented,” Councilwoman Janee Ayers told Cox during a presentation at Tuesday’s formal council session, adding members learned of the intentions in a Detroit News report.

Ayers noted residents need council approval to shut down their street for a block party, but the city’s Planning office and Department of Public Works made the decision to keep Woodward access closed without running it by them.

Councilman Andre Spivey requested the administration come back next week with a resolution seeking to maintain the temporary road closure for the plaza.

“This is no ego trip here,” he said. “It’s just the process that you all admitted you did not follow.”

Cox told council he takes responsibility for the missteps, noting “we have never done this before.”

“There’s very little precedent for this in our downtown area so we’re making up a lot of this as we go along,” he said.

The stretch of Woodward has been closed to motor traffic since June 12.

Cox on Tuesday also presented findings from a survey conducted after the initial installation that found 81 percent of the people using the space felt it should become permanent. Of the 250 people who participated, 55 percent were Detroit residents.

Separately, he said, the closure found no significant traffic issues.

“I need to see the traffic report and need to understand why you all thinks it’s OK to just do whatever you want and not hold yourself to the same standard that you hold residents to,” Ayers said. “I have a problem with the process, not the fact that it’s here.”

After the meeting, Cox said that he’d “misspoke” when speaking to media last month about the plaza based on his “enthusiasm for pedestrian space downtown.”

The plaza’s winter display is currently in progress. It’s being transformed with trees, lights and a geodesic dome as well as food vendors, Cox said.

The trial period for the 20,000-square-foot plaza featured a seating area, occasional food trucks and art. It cost under $200,000 and was funded with private and public dollars.

DPW Director Ron Brundidge said the plaza remains under a temporary trial period. Officials intend to reassess its future in the coming months.