Downtown St. Clair is buzzing with parking lot work and the construction of a new theater

Much of downtown St. Clair is completely destroyed.

Areas of the parking lot around Riverview Plaza are blocked off as a long-awaited reconstruction project is underway. And at one corner, a large hole in the ground shows the first signs of the $3 million theater footprint that is expected to take shape later this year.

But beyond all the orange cones and construction, local residents and community leaders said they were feeling optimistic.

Mayor Bill Cedar said there was a sense of anticipation as to what all of this would mean for the region.

“Everyone is excited,” he said.

“I think people generally accept it,” Cedar added when asked about the construction inconvenience, especially in the parking lot. “They understand how bad it was and (anticipate) how much it’s going to get better.”

Construction vehicles parked at the aging parking lot reconstruction site around Riverview Plaza in downtown St. Clair on Monday, May 9, 2022.

The parking lot reconstruction is being funded by the Community Foundation of St. Clair County as part of an agreement with the owners of the Plaza Mall finalized last year, and it is expected to be completed by mid-June – on time. for the busiest part of St. Clair. Summer.

Randy Maiers, the foundation’s president and CEO, said work on the ground began earlier this year and is “going full steam ahead right now.”

He said the area still looked a little difficult, admitting that any project of this scale “looks worse before it gets better”. The work is expected to cost between $600,000 and $800,000.

The Community Foundation is also a major financial supporter of the theater developed under the direction of the Riverbank Theater organization.

“It’s quite a field of work there now,” Maiers said. “(A lot of work) started about a month ago. DTE (Energy) stepped in and replaced all the lights with nice new, more energy efficient lights. So it was done. It was a huge help.

“Now our contractors are moving the entrances, pouring new cement for the entrances, carrying out infrastructure works. They will work from north to south. They have already demolished all the islands on the north side, closed the entrance on the north side That’s a lot of work teams.

Reconstruction work on the aging parking lot around Riverview Plaza begins in downtown St. Clair on Monday, May 9, 2022.

Shared relief for works on the parking lot of the square

Resident Patricia Carr was strolling the plaza early Monday and is happy to see the parking lot being redone.

“Hopefully they do it right. Right now it’s like four-wheeling. When you walk in, it’s like,” Carr said, rocking from side to side with his arms outstretched to simulate a bumpy ride, “That’s bad.”

Jeff and Cheri Nichols were also walking around the area on Monday, and they made a similar observation about the land, adding that reconstruction was long overdue.

“Right now it’s like four-wheel drive,” Cheri said.

Both said they had lived in other states like Alaska and Colorado and that, despite the cold weather and traffic, the pavement of places in those areas had never felt as bad as the lot of the place.

“It’s been one of the worst parking lots since we were in high school, and everyone was complaining about the parking lot,” Jeff said.

New Riverbank theater on track to open within the year, manager says

Kathy Vertin, executive director of the Riverbank Theater organization, said the new St. Clair project was well advanced with engineering, site preparation and underground work over the past two months, although she admitted that might be more obvious to passers-by. recently.

“For example, the big gaping hole you see in the ground now. This forms the orchestra pit,” she said. “This venue will have a theatrical flight system, which requires a lot of support. So when I talk about foundation, the foundation is really essential – the essential component.

A bulldozer parked at the construction site for a new theater at the south end of the plaza parking lot in St. Clair on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

More recently, Vertin said he was also able to reconfigure the project in detail, such as capturing more parking spaces through re-engineering – all fundamental work that helps construction take shape faster.

She expected the steel skeleton of the future 12,000-square-foot, 350-seat performing arts hall to also be built within the next 30 days and said the project was still on track to be completed within a year.

The Riverbank Organization, which also operates the Riverbank Theater and the Snug Theater in Marine City, is expected to officially name the structure in the coming weeks, taking into account suggestions from followers on social media.

Vertin said they plan to hold an official ceremony to celebrate the launch of the project and announce the name of the theater in about a month.

The Westhaven Builders LLC banner hangs from a closed fence at the construction site for a new theater at the south end of the plaza parking lot in St. Clair on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

Vertin said they are also continuing to fundraise with $2.6 million raised of the $3 million planned so far.

This includes a $1 million challenge grant from the Franklin H. and Nancy S. Moore Foundation last year and $500,000 from the Community Foundation.

Citing inflation affecting construction nationwide, Vertin said she may have to knock on a few doors for little more than the remaining $400,000. Overall, she said they’re excited to move forward, calling the St. Clair site a “logical next step” for Riverbank.

“When we launched our little Snug Theater, the vision was also big. The vision was to have an artistic destination on the river, and the vision was all along the river,” she said.

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.

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