The Mill of South County, originally known as the Lee Paper Company, sits in the middle of the Village of Vicksburg. Built in 1905, it provided a prosperous and thriving economy for nearly a century. The plant closed in 2001, taking with it jobs and a tax base and leaving behind a 416,000-square-foot building on 120 acres. The Village’s population began to shrink drastically. In 2014, Paper City Development bought the property to preserve the building and develop a destination venue for the community, possibly with breweries and taprooms, indoor and outdoor event venues, restaurants, offices, residential spaces, and even a museum.
At the same time, village leaders began developing a sewer/stormwater asset management plan. Like many other Michigan communities built at the turn of the 20th century, existing lines were over 80 years old and ready for replacement. Village leaders saw this opportunity to give back to the legacy that built their community and work towards ensuring the success of the new development. It would require a significant improvement of infrastructure systems within the community to make the downtown area part of the journey.
Village officials took nearly three years to carefully study the community’s infrastructure, which revealed more than $30 million worth of critical needs. Refining the project to immediate needs, an $11 million package was rolled out, $9 million of which was focused on sewer-related infrastructure replacements and upgrades in other areas.
Short of the nearby development project (The Mill), the other driving force of the project was addressing the sanitary system capacity issues, minimizing short- and long-term costs, and considering the master plan and capital improvement plans for each utility system.
Inline televising inspection and smoke testing revealed that stormwater was getting into the sanitary system and going to the Kalamazoo Wastewater Treatment Plant for treatment. By correcting these issues, the village would save significant money in energy and treatment expenses.
Three areas within the sanitary pipe network and three lift stations were undersized for current flows—the Washington Street, Highway Street, and the Spruce Street lift stations (force main). Additionally, the pipe network from the Centennial neighborhood to the Trillium lift station, the downstream pipe from the Washington Street lift station, and the pipe downstream of the Highway Street lift station were also undersized.
The project design included an interceptor sewer between the Washington lift station and the Spruce Street lift station to help the flow from high growth areas on the west side of town to go directly from the Washington Street lift station through the interceptor to the Spruce Street lift station instead of putting added stress on an older system running through neighborhoods on the south and east sides of Vicksburg. Additionally, the interceptor provides significant utility savings at the Highway Street lift station.
Streetscape and Placemaking
In conjunction with the infrastructure improvements, Vicksburg saw the opportunity to further develop and implement a downtown area that would bring people to the heart of the Village to shop, eat, walk, and enjoy. Prein&Newhof worked with Village leaders and the future generation of business owners to develop a vision and plan for upgrading the downtown area. This included making Main Street one way with on-street parallel parking on one side and angled parking on the other, expanding the sidewalks to 15 feet wide, and including a plaza at the midblock sidewalk crossing to provide more space for people to congregate.
Streetlights were refurbished and the traffic signal was redesigned. Charging stations were installed, all new benches, trash receptacles, tables and chairs, and bike racks were put in place. Planter beds with irrigation and planter pots were strategically placed along with street trees and enhanced crosswalks for additional pedestrian safety.
Meanwhile, Oswalt Park, across the street on the corner of E. Prairie and Main, also needed improvements and updating. It was perfect timing to tie the project onto the infrastructure construction work being done on Main Street. It greatly expanded community gathering space.
The village manager has excellent communication practices within the community. As a consensus builder, he always goes above and beyond to ensure constituents are aware of the progress on village business and projects. This project followed his usual protocol for community awareness. The village pulled out all the stops to keep the public informed. There was a full-court press on social media, community newsletters, local media/TV coverage, and construction updates on the Prein&Newhof website. Weekly meetings were held to review progress and to help anticipate upcoming challenges. These meetings were attended by the contractors, engineers, Village administration, public relations, and public works staff.
The Mill project is expected to spur further residential and commercial development by way of attracting a higher skilled workforce to the area. Infrastructure improvements in downtown Vicksburg and the development that comes with The Mill will stimulate the local economy and increase the population with the addition of over 220 new jobs. The 2010 census reflected 2,905 residents. As of the 2020 Census, the Village has a population of 3,814 residents with an expectation that the area will continue to grow and blossom.