Berkley plan to restrict traffic draws business concern
Berkley— A plan to create a community gathering space for civic events in Berkley is drawing some concern from merchants worried about access to their businesses.
City officials are temporarily closing Robina Avenue to vehicle traffic on both sides of 12 Mile in the city’s central business district starting Monday to test whether to make the change permanent.
The first stage of the Robina Plaza Project — which includes transforming side streets adjacent to the Berkley Theatre marquee building as a possible meeting place for future family events — will run until Nov. 18.
During the 60-day closure, the park and recreation department plans activities and officials will study traffic patterns and reactions.
“This temporary closure gives residents and visitors the opportunity to experience Robina in a whole new way,” City Manager Matt Baumgarten said. “We are excited to see how this area could potentially be used in the future. We encourage residents to visit the space and participate in the scheduled events during the closure.”
But some merchants, such as Cinda Coon, owner of the Lunch Café on 12 Mile near Robina, are already weighing in. And they don’t necessarily share Baumgarten’s optimism.
“I don’t like it at all — it will mess up the flow and the traffic around here,” said Coon, whose café serves up tasty sandwiches, soups and folksy signs like “What if the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about?”
The project is an example of how older Oakland County cities — from Ferndale to Pontiac — are looking for ways to reinvent their business districts and make them more attractive and essential, sometimes with resistance from those who prefer things just the way they are.
Coon said she supports special-occasion events on Robina, such as the summertime “Robina Rhapsody” live-music concerts, for a few hours for music and dance and family fun. But she doesn’t believe a plan to shut off traffic seven days a week has taken area merchants, including several restaurants and bars, into consideration.
She and others attended some city meetings to raise questions and express doubts. Among them: How do vendors access businesses on Robina and along 12 Mile, if vehicle access is cut off?
“Who is going to be responsible for cleaning up these areas on a regular basis or making certain they are safe?” she asked. “Will there be sufficient parking spaces? Will there be signs put up to let visitors know there are shops and businesses open down the block off 12 Mile? Nobody seems to know.
“I love Berkley and have lived in the city for about 30 years and run a business here for about 10 years. I would think an effort and any expenses would be better spent on improving our local parks.”
Owner Bridget Dean, whose “... have You Any Wool?” knitting shop is on Robina, is hoping for the best. Dean is also a member of the Berkley Downtown Development Authority, which has been working with officials, the Michigan Municipal League and the city’s engineering firm — Hubbell, Roth and Clark — to determine the most effective and safe way to create a community gathering place.
“I think it’s really too early to tell whether this is good or bad,” said Dean, a 10-year resident and 12-year business owner. “Residents love music and art and I expect we will see some of that.
“I supported the effort to have a ‘yarn bombing’ along here,” she said, gesturing out her shop window to bright colored yarn wrapped around posts and across benches. “I think the temporary closure will be good and give us all an idea of what it will look like and what impact — good or bad — it might have on businesses.”
She said only about 16 people — primarily city officials and workers — attended a recent visioning meeting on the Robina project, but most were enthusiastic.
“It reminds me of a child telling a parent they don’t like something being offered for dinner when they have never eaten the food before,” she said. “If you never try it, how are you ever going to know?”
Baumgarten said after Robina reopens, the city’s Public Safety Department will report findings and recommendations to the Downtown Development Authority and City Council.
About the project
For more information and to see architectural renderings, visit www.berkleymich.org/robina