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From Whence Did Dig Downtown Come From And Why?

Progress Park in all its glory before destroying the core of downtown businesses

Few if any will remember the Progress Place debacle that effectively destroyed downtown businesses in Jackson in the early 60's.

FLASH: Multimillion dollar construction project for Michigan Avenue downtown slated to begin in August
By Will Forgrave

From MLive: December 13, 2013 at 3:30 PM JACKSON, MI – A multimillion dollar project to reconstruct Michigan Avenue in downtown Jackson is slated to begin next summer. The project calls for the replacement of water and sewer lines – some more than 100 years old – on the downtown corridor from Blackstone Street to Francis Street.

Repaving Michigan Avenue and sidewalk work is also included in the plans, as well as adding an additional 30 parking spaces downtown. Jackson City Manager Patrick Burtch said the project will likely cost between $2 million and $2.5 million.

The funds will come primarily from the city's water and sewer funds, which will have an estimated $6.4 million combined come June 30, 2014, according to budget records.

Jackson City Council voted recently to contract with Taylor-based Wade Trim for $62,000 to perform a topographic survey of Michigan Avenue from Blackstone Street to Francis Street and Jackson Street from Cortland Avenue to Pearl Street. "The survey is the first step in the process of preparing plans and contract documents for the replacement of the antiquated cast iron water mains and brick sewers under Michigan Avenue," Jackson Engineer Jon Dowling said.

Burtch said the construction will likely begin in August 2014. "Our goal is to keep the downtown as accessible as possible during the construction," he said. "The project will probably take about a year to complete, ending in the spring of 2015."

Burtch said the project is part of city efforts as of late to focus on revitalizing downtown Jackson. "We're excited about this project because of our new focus in uplifting downtown Jackson and working from the inside out," Burtch said.

"We're using money on what would have been peripheral projects to complete this work."

Jackson City Council recently voted to contract with Ann Arbor-based Beckett & Raeder to develop a downtown streetscape master plan for $61,260. B&R also designed the proposed park on the site of the former Consumers Energy headquarters building. "We are very excited to have this opportunity to work in the city of Jackson in conjunction with other exciting plans for downtown," B&R representative Christy Summers said in a statement.

End of MLive Article excerpt

The Dig Downtown Project underway along Michigan Avenue

The "Project" was sold to the council as a necessary precursor to redevelopment of downtown. The old leaking water and sewer lines needed replacement according to Burtch. We needed to take money from the water and sewer fund accounts and spend it downtown even when is severely impacted the remaining balances needed to maintain the infrastructure for the rest of the taxpayers.

It is important to remember Burtch's words: "Burtch said the project is part of city efforts as of late to focus on revitalizing downtown Jackson." and "Jackson City Manager Patrick Burtch said the project will likely cost between $2 million and $2.5 million. ". ""The project will probably take about a year to complete, ending in the spring of 2015.", he added.

Oh my goodness, February 10, 2015 Project to cost $1 million more due to a compressed schedule. Didn't Burtch just say it would be done in the spring of 2015? After spending $1 million to accelerate the schedule it is slipping to fall of 2015. City Engineer Jon Dowling said engineers' cost estimates did not take into account that the city planned to complete the project in half the time it would normally take.

Oops. February 11, 2015: Project to now cost $3.4 million to complete.

Lets see what else he said: February 11, 2015: "The project will probably cost a little less than $4 million," Burtch said at a city meeting Tuesday, Feb. 10, prior to council members voting in favor of a $2.98 million bid for the project."

And a councilman added added: "This is a crucial project for the vitality of our downtown," Councilman Daniel Greer, 3rd Ward, said. "In order to grow our downtown we need more infrastructure capacities. It's a huge undertaking by our administration."

The article further states: "The funds for the project will come primarily from the city's water and sewer funds, which will have an estimated $4.78 million combined come June 30, 2015, according to budget records."

On July 8 2014, MLive reported: "The funds for the construction project will come primarily from the city's water and sewer funds, which will have an estimated $6.4 million combined come June 30, according to budget records." Note the article says "come" June 30th. Since the article was written July 8th, the June 30th referred to must be in 2015. Interesting since the paragraph above quotes the same author as saying the fund balance will be $4.7 million on June 30th.

So what is the real fund balance? This is money to repair our water and sewer lines city wide, not just downtown.

"Officials said the "vast majority" of funds for the project will come from the city's water and sewer funds. Property owners along the stretch of street under construction will not be assessed for the work.

That is pretty benevolent on the part of the city. Of course they would not assess the businesses owners who are already being crushed by curtailment of business activity due to the construction.

Another councilman is quoted: "Ultimately, this is a utility project and not a street construction project," Frounfelker said. "But since we have to tear up the streets to get to the utilities underneath, the streets will be repaved and the sidewalks redone."

Yes, since we are doing all this other necessary stuff, lets cut down all the trees, tear out and rebuild the sidewalks and make navigating the downtown streets more difficult. And all this we will get for an additional $1.3 million. What will the total cost be? $4 million? $4.5 million? Maybe $5 million. Lets throw in another $1.5 million for the Hayes hotel parking and and $1.5 million for Blackman Park, lot.

What is a little free money among conspirators. After all, this is "other peoples money" the council is spending without a second thought.

Lets look for the real reasons behind this massive project and associated "improvements".

Burtch said the project is part of city efforts as of late to focus on revitalizing downtown Jackson. "We're excited about this project because of our new focus in uplifting downtown Jackson and working from the inside out," Burtch said.

"We're using money on what would have been peripheral projects to complete this work."

Those peripheral projects are maintenance and replacement of water and sewer lines for the rest of us taxpayers throughout the city.

The old corroding lines spewing rusty water into your homes will have to stay. The undersized lines limiting hydrant flow and compromising the ability of the fire department to get access to necessary flow rates to save your home will just have to wait. Pat Burtch and the city council have more important issue such as rebuilding downtown to attract "young professionals" to fill all the jobs in waiting.

When Burtch was selling this project he assured us that the lines were old and decrepit and needed replacement. A look at the Water Main Replacement Plan 2012 through 2019 shows no water line replacement needed nor scheduled nor street reconstruction needed or planned for Michigan Ave between Francis and Blackstone St.

The report states: "Federal Aid street construction projects (major streets) will be selected separately based upon transportation needs. All street projects that include pavement replacement will include water main replacement when existing mains are more than 50 years old. Water mains with inadequate hydrant flow or a main break history will also be replaced."

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for data on leaks and repairs on water lines in Michigan Ave. from 2008 to the present revealed that 6 leaks in water main occurred between 2010 and 2013. All were minor leaks, mostly due to "leaking joints". Also included were 5 "Complaint Reports" reporting 1 leak, several dirty water complaints and one "pothole lid missing" causing injury.

So why are we spending $5 million on rebuilding the street and replacing the water lines when there is no apparent need according to city records and documents?

It appears that this entire project is part of the Burtch and puppet council agenda to rebuild the core of Jackson and do a make over.

The citizens were not asked if they wanted this project. The businesses were not asked if they wanted this project. The taxpayers were not asked if they wanted this project.

It appears that Pat Burtch wanted this project for his legacy and the council was led by the nose.

The work is almost complete and there is nothing we can do about it. What we can do is replace those council people who supported this project mindlessly without investigating whether there was a real need. We will now be faced with increased water and sewer bills to replenish the depleted water and sewer fund so that when we get a leak in our street, there will be money to fix it.

Lets hope that all the cosmetic enhancement downtown are not ripped out in 10 years as was done with Progress Place after it destroyed the downtown Jackson business district.

Remember what our current mayor stated: "A hallmark of democracy is for a local municipality to dictate the wants and needs of its constituents".

This is the mentality of the council majority that got us here. Let us end it November 3rd. VOTE


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