In 2015, the city of Niles requested technical assistance from the PlacePlans program in positioning three publicly-owned sites adjacent to their Main Street district for transformational development. For this project, the League partnered with Mark Miller, of Nederveld, Inc., and Lynee Wells, of Williams & Works, to develop recommended development scenarios for the target sites.
From a placemaking perspective, Niles is a “small-town city” that offers much more to work with than its population of 11,500 might suggest: a vibrant Main Street district, attractive riverfront views and recreational amenities, a lengthy history backing its “City of Four Flags” nickname, successful seasonal events, and community anchors such as a hospital, YMCA, movie theater, and AMTRAK station. Its location provides a unique combination of access to jobs and attractions in the much larger nearby Indiana cities—South Bend, Mishawaka, and Elkhart—while the state border keeps Niles from functioning or feeling like a suburb of those cities.
Despite these assets, the city has not seen significant private construction activity in recent years—the most recent market-rate multifamily development in the city was nearly 40 years ago—and the city faces both a lack of local context in planning for new development as well as a lack of comparable projects that limits developers’ access to financing.
The PlacePlan revolves around three parcels: the “old YMCA site” on the northeast corner of Main and State Streets, the “old public safety site” at the southwest corner of 3rd Street and Broadway, and the “Water Street block”, on the west side of Front Street between Sycamore and Ferry Streets. All three sites overlook the St. Joseph River and sit just beyond the edges of the city’s Main Street district, offering opportunities to grow the active core of the city.
The report includes recommended development scenarios for each of these three properties, including concept plans, renderings, and construction cost estimates for each, as well as an analysis of zoning changes that will be needed to enable these developments. Each site concept will require refinement by the ultimate developer, but these concepts provide the foundation for development that will both take advantage of Niles’ place assets and serve as catalysts for further investment.
Because successful urban development relies on good public spaces—and vice versa—the PlacePlan also includes recommendations for the streets around these target sites. High-quality streets that serve all users will maximize the attractiveness of development at these sites, whether for residents who want to stroll downtown for an evening outing or for new businesses seeking customer traffic.
In the news!
Niles council moves forward on improvements for downtown and parks – March 14, 2016, South Bend Tribune
Niles PlacePlan eyes downtown development options – March 11, 2016, South Bend Tribune
Future of former YMCA property uncertain – Jan. 4, 2016, The Leader
A fresh start for downtown Niles? – Jan. 3, 2016, South Bend Tribune
Plans to improve downtown Niles and riverfront – April 13, 2015, WNDU.TV 16
Michigan Municipal League to help Niles with economic development plan – April 10, 2015, The Leader
Benton Harbor, Niles get help with parks ideas – Feb. 4, 2015, The Herald Palladium
Cities to receive economic development assistance – Feb. 9, 2015, The Leader
Niles and Benton Harbor receive PlacePlans assistance for downtown development plans – Feb. 4, 2015, TV 13 News
Niles, Benton Harbor to get help with key development projects – Feb. 5, 2015, WNDU TV 16
Niles among seven communities selected for PlacePlans Work – Feb. 6, 2015, Miplace.org