Crowd-funders say 'yes' to Royal Oak smart park

June 11, 2015 | Hometown Life

If money talks, then Royal Oak residents and business owners have made it clear: They want a smart park in downtown.

"People were really behind the project from the get-go and were willing to show their support with their pocketbook, not just talk about that they think it's a great idea but actually physically support it," Royal Oak Community Engagement Specialist Judy Davids said Thursday.

On May 18, the city launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds for converting a pedestrian plaza next to the Center Street parking structure into a space that would include technology and Wi-Fi access, sustainable landscaping, smart materials, tables to eat and work, interactive LED lights and solar charging stations.

On Wednesday, with a few days to spare, the city surpassed its crowd-funding goal of $60,000 when a $10,000 donation from Emagine Theaters put them over the top.

A few hours later, Vibe Credit Union (which has an eCenter location at 501 S. Main Street) and Bistro 82 (401 S. Lafayette Ave) also made verbal commitments of $10,000 each.

That puts donation commitments at $85,000, which came from about 400 donors. The deadline to raise $60,000 was 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, June 16.

Once all the donations are gathered and finalized, Royal Oak will receive dollar-for-dollar matches up to $60,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's "Public Spaces, Community Places" program that allows communities to raise funds for transformation projects and receive matching grants.

Earlier this week, Bill Roberts, who owns Town Tavern at 116 W. Fourth Street and several other area restaurants, gave Mayor Jim Ellison a check for $2,500.

"It's a great partnership of business and the city," Roberts said. "The other piece of it is many of our guests use that parking structure at Fourth Street and Center Street; and, of course, when they park their car, they come out right where this park will be. So it just seems like a grand idea to be part of this and give to the city and our guests."

Moving forward

Dubbed the Center Street Smart Park, city officials say it would allow residents, students, professionals and visitors to connect in smart ways.Royal Oak leaders collaborated with local businesses, technology gurus, landscape architects and planners from livingLAB Detroit on a design for the green connected space.

"It's just a cool use of space, and I think it's a great idea," Roberts said.

City officials gathered with livingLAB Detroit staffers Thursday morning to outline the next steps and flesh out a time line.

The city expects everything to be completed by spring 2016. But residents should see changes before then, Davids said Thursday.

"We realize that people dug deep into their pocketbooks, and we want to be able to show them something for their donations as quickly as possible," she said.

"We're going to be able to do some things very quickly. We hope to have public Wi-Fi there very quickly. We hope to have art there quickly."

City officials also met with members of Vectorform, a national technology firm with an office at 123 W. Fifth Street, which has offered the services of their interns, Davids said. That could lead to an interactive smart park app going live this summer.

The most expensive portion of the project will be the demolition and rebuilding of the tract, Davids said. The city will likely wait until after the Summer Concert Series and Arts, Beats & Eats are concluded, to avoid any disruptions to those events.

"This summer and certainly by this fall, we hope to have a lot going on there — improvements that people will see right away," she said. "Again, we don't want to tear it up during our Summer Concert Series and Arts, Beats & Eats. Right after Arts, Beats & Eats, hopefully people will start to see some action there."

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