Spirit Plaza gets second life after Detroit council votes to make it permanent

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
A few people enjoy Spirit Plaza in downtown Detroit on Tuesday, July 23, 2019.

Detroit — Spirit Plaza will become a permanent park after all.

The Detroit City Council voted 5-4 on Tuesday to make permanent the pedestrian plaza along a closed section of Woodward off Jefferson. The vote follows a 4-4 vote last week that would have removed the plaza.

The council also approved Tuesday to spend nearly $800,000 in bond funding for improvements for the plaza.

Last week, Councilman Scott Benson filed a motion with the City Clerk's Office that returned the measure to the council's formal session agenda on Tuesday.

Benson along with Councilmembers James Tate, Gabe Leland, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and Andre Spivey voted in favor of the park, according to the city. Spivey was absent last week when the first vote was taken.

President Brenda Jones, President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield and members Roy McCalister Jr. and Janee Ayers again voted against the measure, citing traffic and safety concerns.

Lisa Session of Detroit takes a break from her job to enjoy Spirit Plaza this afternoon.

McCalister has said he wasn't against activities for youths and other residents but raised safety worries over the plaza that are centered "around a building which could very easily be targeted."

The pedestrian plaza has been controversial since it launched in 2017 as a three-month pilot without input from the city's legislative body.

In a 6-3 vote Tuesday, the City Council approved a contract with Detroit-based Premier Group Associates for $794,750 for the build-out of the plaza, which will include an eating area, stage, children’s playscape and landscaping. Jones, Ayers and McCalister voted against the contract.

Brad Dick, a city group executive for services and infrastructure, said construction could begin in three weeks on the plaza.

“I think it’s better to make it a permanent closure because at that point we can consider it part of our park system and that opens it up to more potential to plan things out, to fundraise,” Dick said.

“Whenever you add new parks to your park system that increases your score to receive federal dollars, state dollars.”

A small group of people enjoy Spirit Plaza this afternoon.

Dick has said studies have concluded 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.

Benson said previously he regards the space as a "best practice" around the world and wanted the full council to have the ability to weigh in on the issue.

"I really believe Spirit Plaza has now become a fixture," Benson said last week. "People have now come to depend on it."


Twitter: @CWilliams_DN