Plotting the Future of the Pipestone Retail District

What if the perimeter of the Orchards Mall building were planted with trees, flowers and substantial green space separating the entry to stores from the parking lot with an inviting view? What if the mall itself were de-centralized to open the main corridor to outside entrances for each store and the periphery of the center were to feature unique multi-family housing, park space, water features and other amenities making the entire district more modern, open and appealing? What if a music amphitheater were built along Pipestone Road and connected by an aerial walkway to the Pipestone Plaza complex which would be converted into a restaurant and entertainment district with green pathways and more?

Those are just a few of the myriad ideas presented by upwards of 50 people who attended a public forum at the Orchards Mall tonight to talk about the entire Pipestone retail district and its connection to Ox Creek and the Ox Creek Watershed, talking about trees, sidewalks, new housing opportunities and more.

Marcy Hamilton and colleagues from the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, Wightman & Associates, Aisle Rocket Studios and others opened up a wide-ranging discussion about the dreamscape potentials for the region, with an eye toward making things decidedly more walkable, user-friendly, green, and more protective of the entire Ox Creek Watershed which is on the state's list of streams that are not meeting water quality standards due to pollutants from run-off on the many massive parking lots in the district.

A three-part program was undertaken tonight with a brief education of the need for remediation to keep the watershed healthy, to make the whole region more appealing, and identify what people want to see happen with that land, followed by a Visual Preference Survey, and then roundtable idea generation using maps and aerial photos of the retail sector to plot potential improvements.

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Hamilton admitted to the group that the Ox Creek Watershed is not doing well, is not healthy, and is impacting the water quality. The watershed comprises some 13-square miles and 8,600 acres going well beyond the retail core, but the focus tonight was there.

Rain water runoff impacts the creek because of the rapid deployment into drains, sewer pipes and eventually rushes the creek in a very hard way during storms. It's not an uncommon occurrence for most urbanized areas, but the SWM Planners have obtained a grant to find solutions and tonight's session is a major part of that, as organizers work to find better ways to use the land and improve the quality of the water.

By employing  such diverse methods as green roofs on buildings, porous pavement that allows the water to slowly sink in rather than rapidly running off, more use of green island buffers in massive parking lots to break the flow and allow the sinking aspect to retain some of the water, rain gardens, more trees and water features like small man-made creeks and canals, the water quality has a much improved chance of healing.

The group discussed place making in three core groups, strategic place making which is more long term in nature, creative place making which is more spontaneous with pop-up opportunities, and tactical place making which allows for experimentation through low impact, temporary solutions to determine feasibility before advancing to a more strategic long term outlook.

Streetscape and corridor improvements were discussed, walkable connected communities and amenities that would call for creation of lots of new sidewalks in that district and many other ideas were floated tonight.

In the Visual Preference Survey, those on hand viewed 60-colorful slides for 10-seconds each and ranked the desirability of each from a personal point of view on a scale of 1 to 5. That exercise will be tabulated and join the other ideas generated tonight as the work of the Ox Creek Watershed Steering Committee continues moving forward.

Tonight's body of work will be compiled and on February 24th an Andrews University charrette will compare it to earlier work from the steering committee which will reconvene and then those who participated tonight will be invited to get together again in May to continue to develop feasible plans. As Hamilton and her colleagues noted..."Tonight we are at the beginning of a long process, not the end. We have been very impressed with your ideas tonight, and we look forward to reconvening to continue to advance the plans."