For over 35 years, City of Ludington leaders had been working toward the dream of building a centralized location in the downtown area to bring their community together, creating a sense of place, a sense of legacy.
For several decades, the need for a gathering place in the downtown area had been evident. In 2007, a one-way street heading north from the main intersection of downtown was closed to test a site that could be used for this purpose. Creating a gathering place would be an essential move to get more people playing, shopping, and overall congregating in the downtown area.
The City of Ludington’s new community gathering space has made its home in the former James Street right-of- way—originally a one-way street heading north from the main intersection of downtown. Legacy Plaza is a welcoming space that includes a farmers market pavilion, restroom facility, raised performance stage, gas fireplace with seating wall, decorative lighting, green space, native rain gardens, and site furnishings tied together with decorative concrete and landscaping.
Prein&Newhof provided site design, water main and storm water sewer design, landscape architecture, and construction observation services. Century AE provided design and technical assistance for architecture and electrical engineering. Their contribution was critical to the overall function and feel of the plaza. Heirloom Carpentry & Construction of Ludington, the contractor for the project, has offices adjacent to the project site, affording an elevated view of the project from their third-floor office.
Much of the cost of the work was in hidden infrastructure improvements, from water and storm drainage to sewer and electricity. Beneath the former James Street right-of-way, a maze of utilities needed to be inspected, measured, evaluated, connected to, avoided, or bridged. The complex design took many engineers, architects, and contractors working together with the help of the city’s staff to put the site and utility puzzle together.
A beautiful four-color brick paver compass rose gives nod to the pioneer spirit of the lumber era, the navigational component of maritime history, and bears black, red, yellow, and white colors that are culturally significant to the native people who lived here pre-white settlement. The anchor to the north entry of the Plaza is also the new home to the clock tower placed on Ludington Avenue in the 1980s. The fireplace is south of the alley and surrounded by decorative concrete, seat walls, and café tables, and the flames are easily seen from Ludington Avenue.
City staff members were consistent in highlighting the project during both design and construction on social media. Prein&Newhof also provided a construction update page, highlighting detailed updates every week. A broad reach of regional and area media outlets provided news coverage to keep the West Michigan area informed of the project and the progress to create excitement once the project was complete.
Green elements include rain garden plantings, LED lighting, and a water bottle filling station. Grass was planted in the heart of the Plaza to provide a place for water to soak in while people can soak up the sun. The use of trees and light-colored pavements were chosen to help keep the Plaza cool during hot summer days.
The design of Legacy Plaza is based on the value that still endures—people. Everything about the design is intended to enhance the users’ experience and become a backdrop for a vibrant community.
“The impact of the project on the downtown, after one year, is already being seen…. It is one more space that makes Ludington special.”
Heather Tykoski, Ludington Community Development Director (via Shoreline Media)
Ludington’s Native American Heritage
From the very beginning, city leaders wanted the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians involved in the design process of the plaza. The tribe was very supportive of the project and how the contributions of Native Americans in the Ludington area would be honored in the plaza.
A tribal historian from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians performed a traditional site groundbreaking ceremony. A cultural tradition inherently respectful of nature, the groundbreaking ceremony is performed to seek permission and forgiveness from Mother Earth before commencing the digging.
The fireplace represents the tribes that were the first people to settle this area: the Ottawa, the Ojibwa, and the Potawatomi. The Council of the Three Fires was an alliance of native Anishinaabe tribes prominent in Michigan. The circle surrounding the fireplace is inscribed with the seven traditional virtues of the Anishinaabe: respect, love, truth, bravery, humility, honesty, and wisdom.
Lumber Industry Heritage
The pavilion was built with timber wood tongue-and-groove ceiling to honor the vast lumbering heritage of the area. Replica custom lumber stamps were made to match those used by distinguished local names—the lumber barons who made their wealth here were pressed into the wet cement. The replications of these stamp designs are hidden in eight locations throughout the Plaza’s north end to honor the industry’s impact.
In 2008, when the Downtown Ludington Board updated their tax increment financing plan, the North James Street area redevelopment was their number one project goal.
In 2019, the city was placed on the HUD Low/Mod list-making Ludington eligible to receive funding from the State of Michigan for projects that would help create jobs and stimulate the local economy. That same year, the city’s small steps became giant leaps and turned their vision into reality. With the assistance of a generous $2.1 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation through a Community Development Block Grant and $389,710 raised via private donations and fundraising efforts, the city was finally able to move forward.