Williamston approves band shell, ponders Middle Street lot

Two new projects were announced at January’s Williamston City Council meeting aimed at improving downtown Williamston.

The council agreed to start construction of a band shell in McCormick Park and to request a quote of the cost of renovating the Middle Street parking lot.

The council rewarded nearly four-years of planning by the Williamston Area Beautification Fund when it approved construction of the band shell .

A band shell is an outdoor stage with a back and semi-sphere roof that protects performers from the elements and helps to project sound outward to the audience.

WABF member Tom Fredericks presented the council its request for approval of construction of the shell.

Fredericks explained the band shell would promote the arts, the community and economic growth in the area. “It will bring in people from outside Williamston who will eat at your restaurants, shop at your stores, [and] do all kinds of things to help out our local economy,” Fredericks said.

The WABF has collected money to finance the construction through donations and fundraisers. Fredericks said the fund had raised nearly $81,000, with an additional $23,804.37 set aside as an endowment fund to help maintain the band shell in the future.

Fredericks also said that in honor of the donation of $25,000 by the Local 296 of the American Legion, the WABF has agreed to name the band shell the American Legion Memorial Band Shell.

The WABF plans to start building in April, but doesn’t have enough money to finish the project yet. Frederick said private citizens have promised donations after construction begins. The WABF believes more of the community will lend support when they finally see the band shell start to materialize.

The council voted unanimously to allow the construction of the band shell and approve its name.

The council seemed more than willing to grant approval for the WABF’s plans. Mayor Michelle Hyne expressed her gratitude towards “…the tremendous effort you [WABF members] put forth by putting in your personal time and energy to contribute to our community.” Council member Richard Couturie also commended them on their “leap of faith approach” of starting the construction and hoping for more donations.

The WABF has planned a variety show fundraiser on Feb. 23 at the Williamston High School to continue raising money for the band shell.

Earlier in the night, however, the mood was less jovial when a letter from a resident raised many concerns about the city’s Middle Street parking lot.

The resident explained they had purchased a house near the parking lot a few years ago.  The resident wrote that trash from the several restaurant dumpsters in the lot, which the resident said often overflow, makes its way into surrounding yards, making it difficult to keep the yards clean.

Due to the residents close proximity to the parking lot, the trash often ends up in nearby yards and its disposal becomes the responsibility of residents.

City Manager Lisa Hitchcock was the most vocal on the subject. She pointed out other problems like the uneven pavement, poor lighting, inconvenient handicap parking and faint parking lines. She also pointed out a new landscape plan could replace the overgrown vegetation to uplift its poor appearance.

Hyne said two men had injured themselves as a result of the uneven pavement and the parking lot could pose a safety risk for citizens. Hitchcock also said individuals have been seen loitering and peaking into cars during the night.

Council members discussed options for resolving the problems with the lot and the council decided to focus on resurfacing the lot, having one large dumpster with a fence around it to keep trash from blowing, fixing the landscape and provide better lighting.

Resident Brain Stiffler of Ellie’s Country Kitchen also raised the question of imposing a time limit on parking in the lot. Stiffler said there’s hardly any room to park in the lot and some people use it to park overnight, keeping customers from using the spots. Stiffler thinks enforcing a time limit will help ensure space for everyone.

The timing of the parking lot construction will also be an issue, council member Kenneth Zichi said. The city has already planned construction on Grand River this summer. Zichi said business owners are concerned that if the city tears up Grand River in front of their shops and tears up parking in the back, it will hurt their business.

The council members all voted in favor of researching the work, time and money needed to renovate the parking lot.

The council plans to use Lansing-based architecture, engineering and planning firm c2ae, with whom they currently have a contract.

The council rounded out the meeting with an update from city manager Hitchcock on several projects taking place, including the community center and its land trade, the city’s water/sewer study and what to possibly do with the old library and the island on the Red Cedar River.

The city council generally meets every second and fourth Monday each month at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

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