Housing, Shopping, Plazas, What Works at Our Civic Center?

The Troy Civic Center of approximately 100 acres has been studied several times, Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick reminded the members of  City Council, the Planning Commission and the Downtown Development Association. They were gathered at the Troy Community Center last Wednesday for a joint meeting with Bob Gibbs, a world renowned urban planner, recently hired by Troy Council to study what might or might not actually work on Troy’s Civic Center.

One good thing: Troy owns this property, so they can decide what they would like to see happen there, and set design standards for the site.

Another good thing, Gibbs advised them is that all good urban developments have civic buildings. Troy has six facilities on this property, plus the 30-acre Huber Park, which does have 10 acres of deed restrictions on it.

Our City Hall, Police Station and Library are “ideal uses” for a mixed use development, Gibbs assured the audience. “To be a town center you have to have civic involvement.”

This is actually a big site. Gibbs noted that downtown Detroit, or downtown Birmingham would fit on the Civic Center. So it seems to have lots of potential.

Kischnick did observe that the planning for the site will “take a lot of our time the next year.” He expects the internal city staff as well as a committee of stakeholders to work on the project’s direction.

Gibbs told the group that what his Birmingham firm designs is “walkable, mixed use centers.” Potential elements would, or could, include civic, residential or commercial elements. He did note that he was not sure residential would work on this property. However, you do want a development that is available with a 24/7 access.

He did assure those in attendance that “we are going to look at the potential of putting residential on the property.”

Gibbs pointed out that walkability to millennials and seniors is very important. That makes it very important to banks, too.

Walk scores go from 0 to 100, and banks, he noted, want a score of 85 or better because that gives the best return on investment. The property also sells 80 percent faster and the rentals are 30 percent higher. You can add a bit more profit, he added, if you live within a 1/4-mile walk to a Starbucks or a 10-minute walk to Whole Foods.

While downtown Birmingham has a 92 point walk score, Big Beaver has just a 55 score. However, he observed that wasn’t that bad for such a road. “Millennials want to walk,” he again stressed knowingly.

He listed the types of homes that can be built in an urban center from small cottage homes and townhomes to smart condos and stacker flats (live and work, and for sale or rent).

Besides millennials, Gibbs noted that 20 percent of Troy’s residents are single-person homes. There are, he noted, some rapidly shifting demographics at work in our world. By 2030, it is estimated there will  be 15 to 20 percent less demand for suburban housing, think colonels.

“All of these (housing options) depend on having some retail to walk to, other than a park,” Gibbs continued. They will explore what retail the site can support. When you get to a certain size, there has to be a grocery store if you want to succeed. Smaller developments can go with a corner store or a convenience store.

He will also look at the potential for employment on the site, but added he’s not sure it’s needed. However, every office worker supports 25 square feet of retail.

One thing Gibbs definitely wants to see on any civic center plans is civic art, usually put at the ends of streets or bends in the road.

There has to be open space too. What fits might be a park, town square, a green or a plaza, with a street or lane along side it. These all work well if you put in a cafe, too.

To see the entire presentation, go to the city’s website: www.troymi.gov and at the bottom of the page go to Youtube.