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Massive planters at border create buzz

Christine Ferretti and Candice Williams
The Detroit News
About a dozen of the five-foot-tall pots filled with flowers and tall plants are curved around the plaza near Alter and Kercheval where the farmers market is housed.

Detroit — Towering decorative planters have recently cropped up at the Grosse Pointe Park farmers market at Detroit’s border, stirring debate over the intent after sheds erected last year created a barricade between the cities.

About a dozen of the five-foot-tall pots filled with flowers and tall plants are curved around the plaza near Alter and Kercheval where the market is housed.

Last winter, three sheds on the site raised eyebrows in both communities because the placement had blocked the city’s border with Detroit. The temporary structures forced traffic to move around the central business district.

Today, the sheds are located on the north side of the site.

Critics who objected to the sheds argued that they were discriminatory and acted as a physical and symbolic barrier between the two cities. Others said they helped protect Grosse Pointe Park from blight.

Grosse Pointe Park’s Mayor Gregory Theokas said Saturday that the pots, provided by private donors, will be temporary. Detroit and a developer, he added, are working on a larger-scale development project.

“The flower pots really serve two purposes. One is decorative, the other is a safety concern,” said Theokas, noting there’s a parking lot on the other side of the pots that now act as a buffer to prevent seated or congregating patrons in the gathering space from being injured by vehicles.

Theokas said the design maintains ingress and egress of both pedestrian and vehicles.

Detroit’s administration says it takes no issue with the massive pots.

“The city has no objection to the planters since they do not in any way restrict access between Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park,” Mayor Mike Duggan’s spokesman, John Roach, told The Detroit News.

Carol Wilson visits the market each weekend to hand out coffee and tea while seeking donations for Habitat for Humanity and educating visitors on the nonprofit.

Saturday was the first weekend that she’s seen the planters. She enjoyed them. Prior ruckus over the shed placement was ridiculous, she added.

“The (shed) structure seemed limiting, but it wasn’t. It was never closed off,” said Wilson, who is African American and a Grosse Pointe Park resident. “Even though it looked that way, it wasn’t.”

Grosse Pointe Farms resident Molly Brooks however finds the planters odd.

“Personally, I think that it’s another controversy that’s not needed,” said Brooks, 53, who is white, as she departed from the market on a bicycle Saturday afternoon. “They need to open things up. There’s no need to close things off.”

The sheds for the West Park Farmers Market initially opened last August.

That same month, the two cities entered a joint agreement to create a new connecting gateway along Kercheval.

The deal called for the sheds to be relocated by the fall. In exchange, Detroit would tear down some vacant structures along Alter, between Jefferson and Mack.

The sheds were ultimately relocated in December as Grosse Pointe Park learned that Detroit had signed off on a conceptual plan for the permanent market and plaza north of the existing market site.

A traffic roundabout was created on the Grosse Pointe Park side of Kercheval; Detroit is to build one at Kercheval and Alter.

The two cities have said they will work together on a master plan for the area that will cover traffic, construction, demolition and marketing.

No one has protested the idea of a farmers market, but some residents had opposed cutting off vehicular traffic on Kercheval at the Detroit border. Some took it as a sign that Grosse Pointe Park was trying to wall itself off from Detroit.

Richard Brehler,66, of Grosse Pointe thinks the planters serve as a psychological barrier.

Richard Brehler, 66, was riding his bike Tuesday afternoon near the large pots on the plaza.

Brehler, who is white and a Grosse Pointe Park resident, said when he lived in Detroit decades ago he felt there was an invisible barrier between the cities.

Before the market sheds were moved he didn’t like “the fact that you couldn’t get in.”

He does think the pots serve as a psychological barrier.

“They’re trying to make it pretty,” he said. “It would be nice if they could draw people down here.”

Kenneth Amerine of Grosse Pointe Park says he’s indifferent about the clay pots placed around the Grosse Pointe Park farmers market.

Grosse Pointe Park resident Kenneth Amerine, 48, was out for a walk with his 22-month-old daughter Madison when they recently saw the pots. Amerine, who is black, said he doesn’t care either way.

“I’m curious to see what else they do,” he said.