Niles DDA presents ‘downtown outdoor hub’ survey results

Published 2:58 pm Thursday, May 12, 2022

NILES — The results of a survey given to Niles residents seeking input as the city explores options for enhancing its downtown experience are in.

Niles Downtown Development Authority/Main Street, with support from Michigan Main Street and Downtown Professionals Network, administered the 2022 Downtown Niles Outdoor Hub Survey last month as part of an effort exploring possibilities for enhancing and invigorating the downtown outdoor experience.

Input from nearly 1,400 survey respondents is being used to help inform concepts for the location and design of a place that could serve as a focal point or hub for a downtown outdoor experience that officials believe will make Downtown Niles a better place to visit, live, work, play, do business and invest.

The plan has been in development since before the Niles City Council voted in January to close the controversial Niles Outdoor Downtown Experience, a seating, gathering, and small events area centered in a portion of the 200 block of North 2nd Street. As part of that motion, the council accepted an offer from Michigan Main Street to provide technical assistance to conduct community surveys, identify viable locations for downtown public spaces and engage professional design services at no cost, with the goal of allowing the city to recreate a public space in downtown.

The results of the survey were displayed at an Outdoor Hub open house Tuesday hosted by The Grand LV, 104 N. 3rd St., Niles. There, residents could view survey results along with mock-up sketches of outdoor hub layout options created by Minnesota-based economic development specialists Jay Schlinsog and Michael Schroeder.

“We didn’t set out to try to find the answer to this,” Schroeder said. “Our task was really to understand the dialogue that’s going on with the community around this NODE idea and to see if we could resolve it in a way that allows the community to align behind a particular idea.”

Schroeder has worked with cities across the country and likes what he sees in Niles.

“I think the downtown has the potential to be really vibrant,” Schroeder said. “I know there’s a lot of things going on here already and I think when you look at what the goal of this project was – the NODE project – I think it is a worthy goal. I think the people that we talked to said ‘let’s do it but let’s make sure we do it really well.’ I think people want to have good things in this community and it’s just a matter of making certain that you have time to plan, which we’re doing now, and can execute it well.”

During the open house, residents were able to analyze the information given and offer their own thoughts and opinions to experts.

Niles resident Karen McNelis likes the idea of an outdoor hub but hopes whatever is installed is done so with better execution.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea, especially if there is music,” she said. “But it has to be done in a proper way. It has to be taken care of and none of that was done [with the NODE]. I love the idea, but there needs to be a plan in place.” 

After receiving feedback from residents on Tuesday, Schlinsog and Schroeder will make adjustments to designs before sending them to the DDA/Main Street in the coming weeks.

Lisa Croteau, director of marketing and administrator for Niles Main Street, hopes to present the final design options to the Niles City Council next month.

“They’re going to give us information and it’s up to the DDA and the city council to make some decisions.”

2022 Downtown Niles Outdoor Hub Survey Highlights

Sample Characteristics

1,386 participants

73 percent female

52 percent Niles City residents

45 percent ages 35 to 54

19 percent own/work downtown

  • 77 percent of participants said live programmed performances would make them most likely to visit a downtown outdoor hub
  • 56 percent of participants would prefer an outdoor hub located in an off-street lot 
  • 47 percent of participants have no preference or are unsure regarding a hub’s location relative to building exposures
  • 64 percent of participants would prefer an outdoor hub installation that is permanent
  • 56 percent of participants would prefer an outdoor hub that is open and programmed year-round
  • 79 percent of participants would prefer an outdoor hub open to food trucks and remotely located vendors
  • 49 percent of participants would prefer an outdoor hub that is accommodating to pets, particularly dogs
  • 68 percent of participants would prefer movable tables and chairs
  • 64 percent of participants would prefer a full closure removing all vehicular traffic from a portion of the street if an on-street location were considered.
  • 61 percent of participants would prefer a hard and even surface fully accessible to all users