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That 70's Square

Grissim Metz Andriese Associates, Northville, Mich.

This is the same viewpoint of Town Square before and after. Oversized fiberglass planter urns are interspersed by bollards (Canterbury) along Main Street's edge, calming traffic and defining the edge of the road. There are bollards on site (not pictured) that are removable and look just the same as these.
Steve - ASLA AD
Monarch Stone Int'l Came America

The residents of Northville, Michigan have long enjoyed living in this upscale community with its quaint, historic downtown, a regional shopping and dining destination.

In the 1970s, Northville was ahead of most communities by making streetscape improvements throughout the downtown. This has been an enormous benefit to the city over the last three decades. But since the 70s, little had been done to downtown and by 2006, the town was noticeably in need of renewal.

The pavement pattern for Town Square continues across Main Street to tie in the building fronts to the square. By doing so, vehicular traffic literally passes through the space, strengthening the connection of this public space to the downtown community.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) knew the city need to attract new businesses and patrons, retain current businesses and promote the vibrancy and small-town charm of downtown.

"We needed to start being competitive," said Lori Ward, director of the Northville DDA.

With the support of the Northville City Council, the DDA retained the local landscape architectural firm Grissim Metz Andriese Associates (GMA) to develop the conceptual design plan for downtown improvements. The project encompassed approximately six blocks of streetscape improvements, the entrance to Ford Field (an athletic park), renovation of Mary Alexander Court (a one-way service drive) and complete redesign of the Northville Town Square in the center of downtown.

The fountain's paver pattern continues into the fountain basin with a pyramidesque structure. Tiles line the basin at the water level. The ambient sounds of water cascading from the spouts help muffle the adjacent vehicular traffic noise. Red geraniums, purple wave petunia, potato vine, ornamental grasses and white sweet alyssum decorate the planters.

Town Square Design
The Northville Town Square renovation project began immediately as the first project for the downtown improvements after approval of the conceptual downtown design plan. There were several reasons the town square was chosen as the first phase of redevelopment.

"Town Square represents the past, today and what it can become in the future," explained GMA Principal Sue Grissim, ASLA. And so from the beginning of the firm's involvement the stage was set with the community to truly make Town Square the central community gathering space for all Northville. It became apparent the new town square would be a community landmark, a flexible multipurpose venue and centerpiece for Northville's new identity.

The Northville community hosts events throughout the year. During conceptual design of the downtown plan, it was determined there were 53 planned events for Town Square by various community organizations. Given that range of activity, the square was just too small, dysfunctional and did not contain essential amenities required to host successful events of such various needs.

The fountain, a portion of the plaza, and a recently renovated building wall frame the Town Square. The tables and chairs, (steel mesh, EMU) are moveable to provide flexibility in seating. The umbrellas (Greencorner) are wood with metal bases.

Gaining Consensus
"The challenge of the project was to make a setting to support a wide variety of venues, but be comfortable for everyday use," said Randy Metz, FASLA, principal and head of design for GMA. Building consensus for a design involved dealing and winning over six client groups: the DDA that hired the landscape architects of GMA; a volunteer subcommittee of 42 people who had been researching aspects of the new town square for three years; an involved Historical District Review Board; the City Council; determined business owners; and the Chamber of Commerce. While each group had an agenda with strong opinions about what Northville was, they also shared the opinion the downtown should retain its historic charm and character.

To build a consensus, GMA and the DDA held numerous public presentations and visionary sessions to review and gather input for each component, material and layout proposed for the square. From a design standpoint, it was imperative to maintain the design concept so that it did not get watered down in compromises from group to group, thus losing the functionality and uniqueness so vehemently desired. The Chamber of Commerce and several other groups presented a list of the events they held each year, and daily needs they expected the Town Square's framework to support. Hence, flexibility was key to the layout. A variety of graphic displays were prepared that showed the different needs for each event and how the square could successfully accommodate them.

This view of Northville Town Square looks northwest to an updated store wall. The paving pattern of clay brick and precast concrete pavers, reminiscent of a rug, was created to respect historical architectural patterns. 'Skyline' honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis) proliferate.

Solutions for All
GMA, interpreting the input received, created a unique, updated and appealing design style sympathetic to Northville's long-standing village charm. A paving pattern of clay brick and precast concrete pavers, reminiscent of a "rug" on the square's floor, was created to respect historic architectural patterns. To further unify and convey the unique character of the design, the floor pattern was extended beyond the edges of the square to include the adjacent streets and attach to buildings that front the square. By doing so, vehicular traffic literally passes through the space; strengthening the connection of public space to the downtown community while providing traffic calming at the core shopping area.

To establish a design precedence for the pavilion, GMA referenced images of the Art Nouveau metro entrances in Paris, which are constructed of custom glass and iron. Another aspect was to address the neighboring businesses that flanked the Town Square to include their properties within the square's design. By allowing their sidewalls to be painted and have a vine covered cable trellis system attached, the walls now unify and soften the sides of the square.

Other amenities in the Town Square are electrical services large enough to support the various venues and events, a portable stage and stage lighting and a fountain that converts to a fire pit in the winter months. Also, a snowmelt system, overhead festival string lighting and oversized custom planters add to the function and character of the space. Along Main Street the large planters act as traffic calming devices, define the edge of the road and create a gate announcing Town Square.

The custom glass and iron pavilion at the Mary Alexander Court faces the fountain. A service drive runs behind the pavilion. The overhead string lighting creates a "ceiling" during the day and night. The pavilion incorporates a custom sound system.

Timeless With a Twist
As part of the DDA's ongoing effort to promote the downtown, their marketing firm, New Moon Visions, created a slogan for the updated city: "Downtown Northville - Timeless...with a Twist."

'Green Velvet' boxwoods and blue myrtles are among the shrubs in the large circumference precast concrete segmental unit planters, which double as seating. Because of the large attendance of some events, extra seating was a major priority.

Construction of the Solutions
Because everything within the Town Square and adjacent streets needed complete updating, GMA enlisted several consultants on their team. The expertise of the consultants expertise covered utility upgrades, pavilion design, lighting and the performance sound system. GMA also worked with several contractors to develop specifications for the boiler-driven snowmelt system and retained a structural engineer to assist with structural components of the project.

As the construction plans were developed, DDA hired a construction manager to facilitate construction administration and expedite construction, as DDA wanted Town Square available for their largest annual festival in mid-September. The construction schedule presented the CM with the daunting task of getting the work done within three months.

The view of the pavilion reveals the temporary stage, kept in place during the summer for the weekly Tuesday and Friday performances. The steps in front of the stage offer seating for children, like this "Tunes on Tuesday" performance held every Tuesday during the summer. Custom metal railings are on either side of the pavilion, with a custom aluminum and stainless steel cable trellis to accommodate the climbing hydrangea on the walls of the building.

Aside from the tight schedule and dealing with "curbside construction advice," major challenges included maintaining pedestrian and vehicular traffic flow throughout construction, interacting with a multitude of downtown business owners and appeasing concerns expressed by the members of the multiple municipal agencies involved in the design approval.

The construction manager came up with a brilliant strategy to entice customers to come into town to observe the construction by distributing child-size yellow hard hats so children could be part of the project. Mothers made it a daily event to bring their children into town. Business owners were also enthusiastic about all the activity. DDA promoted the project with a constant flow of information, holding weekly construction update meetings for local merchants and the public with free coffee and baked goods.

The Town Square glows through the winter and hosts several holiday events. Northville turns the decorative lights on every night to add to a festive touch to the downtown shops. Lighting in the square includes ornamental pole, stage, accent, festoon and sconce type illumination. Custom metal landscape edging surrounds the green velvet boxwoods.

A Successful Project
As a result of DDA's vision, Town Square is now a regional attraction and one of the premier gathering spaces in southeastern Michigan. The $2 million public improvement project has been the catalyst for numerous private sector improvements in the adjoining area.

In the winter, the fountain incorporates two fire pits. The pits are constructed inside the fountain basin. Each pit is made of four concrete base pieces, a bowl, grate, logs and mesh.The square has the useful amenity of a snow melt boiler system.

Outside groups are looking at downtown Northville as an example of redevelopment success. During the last year, several movies and commercials have been filmed in the downtown. Besides events, the square truly is a 24/7 space with people enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning, working on their laptop in the afternoon and sitting by the fountain after a great meal. Because of the year-round amenities like the fountain/gas pits, heat melt, and lush plantings, the space is used almost every day of the year.


The Team
Landscape Architect: Grissim Metz Andriese Associates
Project Owner/Client: City of Northville Downtown Development Authority
Civil Engineer: Zeimet-Wozniak & Associates, Inc.
Structural Engineer: Desai / Nasr Consulting Engineers
Electrical Engineer: Peter Basso Associates, Inc.
Architecture: David Peterhans
Irrigation Designer: Graber & Associates, LLC
Lighting: Illuminart
Audio Visual: Command Performance Audio-Visual Systems, Inc.
Surveyors: Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment, Inc.
Construction Manager: McCarthy & Smith

Asphalt pavement
Concrete sidewalks and curbs (natural and stained)
Unit precast concrete pavers
Clay pavers
Custom pavilion of steel and fritted glass canopy
Custom metal railing
Custom metal landscape edging
Custom aluminum and stainless steel cable trellis
Fixed and removeable metal bollards
Bike racks
Custom fountain/fire pit
Precast concrete segmental unit planter walls
Custom planter urns
Customization of Main Street clock metal work
Vinyl screen type fencing
Snow melt boiler system
Sound system with custom cabinet, rack and controls

Unilock: Precast concrete pavers and precast planter wall units
Brick Tech Architectural, rep for clay pavers
Paver Manufacturers: Endicott, Pacific Clay and Yankee Hill
Bike Racks: S & G Products
Trellis, Stainless Steel Cable: Carl Stahl
Bollards: Canterbury
Fire Pit: Airmaster
Planter Urns: The Chandler Co.
Concrete Stain: Scofield
Polyvinyl Screen Fencing: Digger Specialties
Snow Melt Boiler System: Laars Pennant Boiler
o Ornamental Poles: Herwig
o Stage Lighting: Schreder
o Accent: Hydrel, Vista
o Festoon: Tokistar Lighting
o Sconce: Herwig
Fountain Tile: American Olean Tile Co.
Custom Sound System: Command Performance

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October 20, 2019, 5:35 pm PDT

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