Heart of Downtown: Sundquist Pavilion in Riley Park

Challenge 

During a community visioning process, residents tried to answer the question: Where is the heart of your downtown? Answer: There wasn’t one.

Farmington-Harvest-Moon-banner

The Gist

  • What:  A park and pavilion built on top of a strip-mall parking lot became the center of Farmington’s downtown.
  • Where:  Farmington, Mich.
  • When:  2002 project start date

Overview

A collaborative effort of residents, business owners, philanthropists, and city leaders created an active city center by transforming a surface parking lot in the middle of a strip mall into a ¾ acre park. The park has a large pavilion, attractive landscaping, and a large space to host community events year-round. The team was able to do all this without losing one parking spot.

Farmington-Pavilion-inlineAccomplishments

  • The Sundquist Pavilion in Riley Park hosts about 60 events throughout the year, offering a space for neighbors to gather, connect, and spend time downtown. For example, the Saturday Farmers Market hosts about 2,000 visitors each week and hundreds attend the Holly Days winter market. Resident-led programming, like weekly swing dancing performances, draws a smaller audience but keeps the space activated.
  • Farmington-Harvest-Moon-Kids-inlineWith more people in downtown Farmington on a regular basis, many local retail stores and restaurants have seen more foot traffic and higher sales. Improving the streetscape and walkability also encouraged business owners to enhance the aesthetics of their property. For example:
    • Dress Barn used the opportunity to remodel their store, enhance their product line, and feature the Farmington store in a national photo shoot.
    • Many downtown restaurants, like Los Tres Amigos, added outdoor seating and improved landscaping.
    • Farmington planners were able to keep the same number of shopping center parking spaces, despite adding the park and pavilion to the middle of the surface lot.
    • Farmington-Sidewalk-inlineDevelopment of the Sundquist Pavilion in Riley Park built momentum for the downtown Master Plan, which also included redeveloping other aspects of the area:
      • The Grand River Streetscape Project was completed in 2009 and improved pedestrian safety, aesthetics, business environment, and reduced road congestion. Planners used the tactics of bump-out parking to narrow the road and creative landscaping to make the sidewalk more comfortable.
      • The Grove Street Project was completed in 2013 and upgraded the shopping center and streetscape, adding parking, and improved the aesthetics and pedestrian safety.

Participation

City leaders engaged a wide group of supporters and planners to help with the project, including:

  • Residents
  • Local business owners
  • The Farmington Downtown Development Authority and planning committees
  • Private architecture and design firms
  • Local philanthropists
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Other governmental agencies (library, schools, etc.)

Budget

Total cost: Approximately $2.2 million

Ongoing costs: $25,000–$30,000 annually, not including major items

Funding

Project start-up funding came from a private foundation, donations, bonds, and city contributions from the capital improvement fund. Maintenance is mainly funded by the DDA through its Principal Shopping District Special Assessment.

How-to

  • Engage residents for visioning – Create a foundation for the project by bringing residents and business owners together to talk about their community and identify what they want for their downtown. In Farmington, the engagement process smoothed implementation because planners could refer back to what neighbors discussed at early planning stages.
  • Find inspiration – To help residents imagine the final product, city leaders used Plymouth’s Kellogg Park as an example of what Farmington could look like. Planners drew up illustrative designs of the project to keep residents excited and supportive.
  • Fundraise – Before redevelopment could begin, Farmington officials needed to secure funding. Using donations from local foundations, business leaders and residents, the community invested in the park and pavilion.
  • Change zoning and design standards – Farmington used its Master Plan process to make changes to the downtown zoning laws. The space was previously zoned for a suburban shopping center, which was exactly what they got. Changing laws to more traditional downtown zoning and design standards (for example, building on the front of a lot instead of the back) allowed planners and landscape architects to improve aesthetics, safety, and comfort.
  • Build – Once everything was in place, the city started construction. 
  • Celebrate – To kick off the new downtown space, city leaders worked with residents and business owners to organize an opening night celebration. On an October evening in 2005, neighbors gathered for the Harvest Moon Dance, which has become an annual event.
  • Farmington-Ice-Rink-inlineProgram year-round – Programming in the new space didn’t stop with the Harvest Moon Dance; the Downtown Development Authority coordinates events in the park year-round. With a weekly farmers market, a summer concert series, art fairs, community events, and even an ice rink in the winter, the space is well used throughout the seasons.
  • Keep the momentum going – As residents and visitors were spending more time downtown, it became clear that Farmington needed to continue their placemaking efforts and redesign wide streets that divide the downtown. In an effort to improve walkability, aesthetics, calm traffic, and improve the business environment, local leaders were able to redesign Grand River and Grove Street, major corridors of the downtown.

Lessons Learned

  • Effective engagement makes for smooth implementation –An in-depth community visioning process, seven years before the park’s grand opening, was the best way for residents to communicate to city leaders what they wanted in their downtown. The priorities and ideas that came out of this meeting helped ensure public support and smooth implementation for the park and pavilion, even over controversial topics like parking and street design. 
  • Farmington-Summer-Concert-Series-inlineYear-round programming keeps the space activated – Once Sundquist Pavilion was built, residents needed a reason to gather. Moving the city’s farmers market was an obvious decision, but that only occupied the space once a week through the growing season. The DDA took an active role in hosting events and coordinating community groups’ events that invited residents and visitors to gather in Farmington’s redesigned downtown spaces. City leaders took the attitude of trying to “find a way to ‘yes’” when approached by residents and organizations interested in using the space. Be flexible and allow for resident innovation. 
  • Get creative with parking spaces – The pavilion and park were built on an existing strip mall parking lot. Instead of throwing out the idea because of the fear of losing parking, planners had time to be creative with the space and rearrange parking spots. After the development was complete, the lot around the pavilion had the same number of spaces as before. 
  • Know your funders – City leaders built strong relationships with local funders and residents interested in investing in the city. If residents and business owners are in full support, leaders will have an easier time finding funding.

Similar Projects

Contact the Experts

Annette Knowles, Executive Director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
aknowles@downtownfarmington.org

Vincent Pastue, Farmington City Manager
vpastue@ci.farmington.mi.us

Supporting Research

  • The Knight Foundation: Soul of the Community– This study shows that what drives people most to love where they live is their perception of aesthetics, social offerings, and openness. The more people love their community, the more economically vital that place will be.
  • Project for Public Spaces: Streets as Places: How Transportation Can Create a Sense of Community – This article encourages city leaders to think of streets as public spaces and allow for residents to envision the kind of interactions and places they want to support, and outlines 10 qualities of great streets.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency: Smart Growth and Economic Success: Benefits for Real Estate Developers, Investors, Businesses, and Local Governments – Compact, diverse, and walkable development can increase property values, encourage job creation, and create amenities and places that improve residents’ quality of life.
  • Cities for People:Time to Reclaim the Streets – Streets and cars are the center of many cities across the world, however, building more pedestrian-friendly streets is key to effective placemaking.
  • Small Town Urbanism: Parking–Local leaders need to carefully consider parking when trying to create a walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly environment. Parking policies should be designed to benefit people, not cars.