NILES – The results of a survey of Niles residents seeking feedback as the city explores options to improve its downtown experience are available.
Niles Downtown Development Authority/Main Street, with support from Michigan Main Street and the Downtown Professionals Network, last month administered the 2022 Downtown Niles Outdoor Hub Survey as part of an effort exploring opportunities to improve and energize the downtown outdoor experience.
Feedback from nearly 1,400 survey respondents is used to help inform location and design concepts for a place that could serve as a focal point or hub for a downtown outdoor experience that, officials say will make downtown Niles a better place to visit, live, work, play, do business and invest.
The plan has been in the works since before Niles City Council voted in January to close the controversial Niles Outdoor Downtown Experience, a seating, gathering and small-events area centered on part of the 200 block of North 2nd Street. As part of the 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 aim of allowing the city to recreate a public space in the city center.
The survey results were displayed Tuesday at an Outdoor Hub open house hosted by The Grand LV, 104 N. 3rd St., Niles. There, residents could see the survey results as well as mock-ups of outdoor hub layout options created by Minnesota economic development specialists Jay Schlinsog and Michael Schroeder.
“We didn’t set out to find the answer to that,” Schroeder said. “Our task was really to understand the dialogue that’s going on with the community around this NODE idea and see if we could resolve it in a way that allows the community to align with a particular idea.”
Schroeder has worked with cities across the country and likes what he sees in Niles.
“I think downtown has the potential to be really vibrant,” Schroeder said. “I know there’s a lot going on here already and I think when you look at what the goal of this project was – the NODE project – I think that’s a laudable goal. I think the people 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 sure that you have time to plan, what we’re doing now, and that you can execute it well.
During the open day, residents were able to analyze the information given and offer their own thoughts and opinions to the experts.
Niles resident Karen McNelis likes the idea of an outdoor hub, but hopes whatever is installed will be with better execution.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea, especially if there’s music,” she said. “But it has to be done appropriately. It needs to be dealt with and none of that has been 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 the designs before sending them to DDA/Main Street in the coming weeks.
Lisa Croteau, marketing director and administrator of Niles Main Street, hopes to present the final design options to Niles City Council next month.
“They are going to give us information and it is up to the DDA and the city council to make certain decisions.”
2022 Niles Downtown Outer Hub Survey Highlights
52% of City of Niles residents
45% are between 35 and 54 years old
19% own/work downtown
- 77% of attendees said a live scheduled performance would make them more likely to visit a downtown outdoor center
- 56% of participants would prefer an outdoor hub located in off-street terrain
- 47% of attendees have no preference or are unsure where a hub is located relative to building exposures
- 64% of respondents would prefer a permanent outdoor hub installation
- 56% of attendees would prefer an outdoor hub open and scheduled year-round
- 79% of participants would prefer an outdoor hub open to food trucks and remotely located vendors
- 49% of participants would prefer an outdoor hub suitable for pets, especially dogs
- 68% of participants would prefer movable tables and chairs
- 64% of participants would prefer a full closure removing all vehicular traffic from part of the street if an on-street location was considered.
- 61% of respondents would prefer a hard, flat surface fully accessible to all users