Journal Register News Service
In the past 10 years, Ferndale has packed thousands of people and cars on its downtown streets and sidewalks for special events to its eclectic mix of shopping, dining and nightlife venues.
Now, it boasts a small and intimate public space with big possibilities with the completion of the Foley & Mansfield Pedestrian Alley.
"People talk about green space, but in a fully developed downtown area that was built in the 1920s, you need quality public space," Ferndale City Manager Robert Bruner Jr. said.
The once dark and difficult-to-navigate, block-long service alley is now paved with sparkly cement and brick pavers and includes retaining walls and hardscape seating. Plantings include ginkgo trees, elf hydrangeas, viburnums, arborvitae, reed grasses and lilies. Market lights will be added in the spring.
The alley will now allow for European cafée-style seating for Club Bart and Dino's Lounge and rear-entrance access to the Ringwald Theatre.
Even though Dean Bach, owner of Dino's Lounge, doesn't plan to serve customers in the alley until next spring, he already has big plans for the alley.
"We're planning an ice zoo with full-size ice animals during the Holiday Ice Festival on Dec. 12," Bach said. "And we plan on adding a mural to the back of our building."
Christina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority, said the DDA is looking to partner with local businesses to add attractions in the alley for other events such as the Woodward Dream Cruise and the DIY Street Fair.
The city of Ferndale acquired the alley in a land swap with the Foley & Mansfield law firm, which purchased the former Ferndale Board of Education building on Nine Mile. Foley & Mansfield offered the alley as partial payment to acquire seven parking spots for an expansion project on the east side of the building, which became a win-win situation for Foley & Mansfield, the city of Ferndale and the Ferndale DDA.
"Years ago, the DDA started taking a look at pedestrian alleys and how we could better define pedestrian areas and vehicular traffic," Sheppard-Decius said. "The previous owners of the building weren't interested in doing something like that, but when we told Foley & Mansfield what we wanted to do, they jumped right in and offered suggestions. When a matching grant became available through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, we already had the plan."
The MEDC grant covered half of the cost of the $60,000 project.
"We owned the alley and lots of cars and trucks would run over our landscaping because they had to navigate a sharp turn in the alley," said Mary Lou Youngling, Foley & Mansfield office administrator. "Plus, there were a lot of Dumpsters and the threat of a lot of rodent infestation. Now, our view out of the windows is prettier and we frequent the restaurants on that side of Woodward."
"People want to relax and enjoy the space they're in," Sheppard-Decius said. "It's a neat space. It's a hidden space."