City Council rejects plan for permanent Woodward plaza

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Spirit Plaza, the pedestrian gathering space on Woodward between Jefferson and Larned, will not be a permanent fixture as City Council failed to pass a proposal to keep it closed from traffic.

Detroit — A divided City Council on Tuesday rejected a proposal to turn a shuttered section of Woodward in the city's downtown into a permanent gathering space. 

Detroit's administration was seeking a five-year closure of Woodward off of Jefferson Avenue just west of City Hall for its "Spirit of Detroit Plaza." But council members, citing traffic and safety worries, ultimately cast a 4-4 vote, failing to reach a majority decision. 

The pedestrian plaza, between Jefferson and Larned, has been controversial since its inception two years ago when it was launched as a three-month pilot without input from the city's legislative body. 

President Brenda Jones, president pro tem Mary Sheffield and members Janee Ayers and Roy McCalister Jr. voted against the measure. Council members James Tate, Gabe Leland, Scott Benson and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez supported it. Andre Spivey was absent.

"I"m just not sold on it being a permanent place here in the city of Detroit," Sheffield said prior to the vote, noting that the plan called for the removal of the median, something she wasn't prepared to agree to without a longer-term study. "I like it. I enjoy it. I don't like it as a permanent structure."

People walk through Spirit Plaza Tuesday with its colorful painted geometric shapes on the northbound lane of Woodward  between Jefferson and Larned.

Castaneda-Lopez was among those who'd been in favor of the plan. The space, she said, is one of few that's free to the public and it "removes barriers on equity" and is "welcoming to longtime residents."

"That's not always the atmosphere in some other spaces downtown," she said.

The panel has until 4 p.m. Monday to reconsider its vote, the City Clerk's Office confirmed. 

Brad Dick, a city group executive for services and infrastructure, said Tuesday he was disappointed with the decision and that the administration is looking for a path to bring the issue back before the council. If that doesn't happen, he'll consider next steps.

Those could be closing down the space in the coming weeks or continuing on with events through the current term of the road closure in November, he said. 

"This is the people's plaza. This was the place for you to come and voice your opinion publicly, right in front of the seat of government," he said. "We felt the support was there."

Also Tuesday, council postponed voting on a nearly $800,000 build-out of the plaza that called for a stage, eating area, flowers and tree planters and a playscape with swings and a slide. 

Jones, during the session, expressed concern over the current and future impact on traffic along heavily traveled Woodward and Jefferson. McCalister added he wasn't against activities for youths and other residents but raised safety worries over the plaza that's centered "around a building which could very easily be targeted."

Spirit Plaza, the pedestrian gathering space on Woodward in front of the Spirit of Detroit, will not be a permanent fixture as City Council failed to pass a proposal to keep it shuttered from traffic.

Dick said studies have concluded that the plaza doesn't have a significant impact on traffic downtown. The plaza is funded with city dollars and grants. The Downtown Detroit Partnership contributed grant funding toward the plaza's 2017 pilot and aided in community engagement and programming. 

The city estimates more than 5,000 people visited the plaza in June and it employs at least 35 local artists weekly. Food trucks stationed there provide at least 500 meals per day, Dick said. 

In the coming weeks, he added, the city expects to solicit proposals for an entertainment district study that would examine programming, management and care for city spaces including Hart Plaza, its waterfront and Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre.