Russom Park ready to rollPublished 6:03pm Thursday, June 20, 2013
A project percolating for years in “stealth mode” is about to roar onto the radar the way Dowagiac Area History Museum did.
Russom Park will soon expand its recognition as the home of Dowagiac youth baseball to a facility for all ages built in partnership with Silver Creek Township.
As City Manager Kevin Anderson told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889, “When you do a project on the main drag of town and you redo the landscaping around the building, that gets people talking” about the museum moved from Southwestern Michigan College into the former Behnke Paint and Floor Covering building in May.
“The number of people going through there now is two to three times the number who went through in the past thanks to the strong visibility on the corner,” Anderson said. “We worked cooperatively with Silver Creek on grants that doubled the size of the park four years ago. Since, we each applied for grants. In total, there is going to be just shy of a million dollars spent in that area in the next 120 days,” including a community build reminiscent of Patrick Hamilton Elementary School’s playground.
“The pre-construction meeting takes place on Monday,” said Anderson, city manager since 2008. “The project about to take place consists of two parking lots, each with more than 200 parking spaces — one on Yaw Street and one off Middle Crossing Road. One where soccer fields will be in the future. That is the start of lifting it up to where we can host tournaments for kids of all ages. The other thing taking place is 1.1 miles of walking trails with benching and landscaping. Major playground equipment that is fully handicap accessible is the other thing. Parents can go to baseball in one section of the park, soccer in another section of the park, with playground equipment for younger folks between games. The idea about to become reality is to build a full community park in conjunction with Silver Creek Township.”
With Dial-A-Ride and Cass County Transit Authority merging if voters approve a .28-mill request on November’s ballot, “We’re hoping for some transportation to dovetail with some things the COA (Council on Aging’s Front Street Crossing) is doing,” Anderson said. “When we think ‘Russom Park,’ instead of youth baseball, when it’s all said and done it will be a place for all ages. Space available for soccer is three times” what’s available at Northwest Park — enough for six full-size fields.
A pavilion was not part of these grants through the Michigan natural resources trust fund, but could be added in the future. There are restrooms, which would be expanded in the future in tandem with concessions.
“We hope we can manage traffic by improving the turning lanes in and out,” he said.
Anderson said downtown has 60 apartments “which are pretty much fully occupied. Our vision is to make it a place to gather, like the COA and the museum. At the end of the day, you want to make sure it has a strong business climate. If you have a place to live and places to gather, that improves. The next round of development downtown involves properties on the corner of Main and Front, kitty corner from City Hall. Council has been purchasing property for years and has accumulated enough for development. It’s close. In the next 90 days we should be able to have a conversation about that. I don’t want to leave the impression that all we’re doing is going out and spending money. Our budgets are about $1 million less than four years ago. We’ve made a tremendous amount of cutbacks.
“We’re working along that M-51 corridor. We’ve got several building plans in right now for retail stores that are either improving or new ones coming in. The former National Copper site is talking to an international company. Time will tell if that comes to fruition. There are currently 20 start-up businesses with two to five employees” incubating in that business center.
“A year ago we worked with Premier to clean up the ICG property. Internal things slowed progress, but over the last two weeks they’ve started moving equipment. The business climate is improving overall, and we’re starting to see pieces of that. I’d love to talk a lot more about some very specific things we’re working on, but I can’t get out ahead of them publicly. Lake X-Ray has a new building in the industrial park and Eric Haas is building. We work closely with the MEDC — Michigan Economic Development Corp. — and LaGrow Consulting. She was over to Chicago at trade shows. For a community of this size, we have a strong emphasis on working on this every day,” Anderson said.