Small-Town Feel in Mid-Size City
By Dan Heaton
It would be tempting to say, perhaps, that in Roseville, all eyes are on the Utica Junction – the vicinity of Gratiot and Utica roads, the original hub of modern settlement in the south Macomb County city. Between the tea room with the fancy scones and the winery, just across from the new rare Earth treasures store and down and around the corner from such stalwarts as the Chester Boot Shop and Roseville Clock Shop, a new public pavilion will be created over the next two summers that local leaders hope will serve as a central gathering point for the city. But even as Roseville leaders focus on what’s happening at the Junction, they can’t ignore national level developments happening further up Gratiot Avenue in Roseville, where perhaps the most signifi cant change is happening to Macomb Mall since that facility fi rst opened back in 1964. There, Sears is gone and a new store, At Home, has taken most of its former space.
“I like to say Roseville has a small town feel in a medium size city,” said Scott Adkins, Roseville city manager for the past half dozen years. “We’ve got an area where the focus is on smaller, locally owned shops and businesses and there’s a place for the national chains. I think it makes for a good mix for the city.”
Even before the Roseville Pavilion is built – on the vacant lot of a former bar destroyed in a fire several years ago – the project has brought welcome buzz to the city.
In 2016, the city’s newly-formed Downtown Development Authority opened up a design contest for the pavilion. City leaders were caught off guard when their contest drew entries from nine different countries! The winning design, selected with public input, came from Mohamed Elgendy, an architect living and working in Egypt.
“That was beyond our wildest expectations,” said Jennifer Colombo, owner of Just Delicious Scones and Royal Treat Tea Room in Roseville and the chairman of the city’s DDA. “Our hope is that this pavilion will become a central attraction where people can sit and spend some time. It can become a drawing point.”
Colombo knows a bit about things going “beyond wildest expectations.” Her scones shop fi rst opened in Roseville in 2010. A couple of years later, she moved a few blocks down Utica, still in the “Junction” area, to expand. Today, her tea room draws rave reviews – and full houses — for lunch and afternoon gatherings. In her kitchen, as many as 6,000 scones per week are baked, packaged and shipped to some 40 or so retailers around the region.
“Roseville has worked out perfectly for me and for my business,” she said. “We have good transportation with I-94 and I-696 right here, so not only can I get my product to the stores I ship to, but my customers can get to me. “I think when we add in the pavilion as a destination, that’s only going to draw more traffic to this area.”
Foot traffic is just what Kirk and Cheryl Matheson at Owl Wineries love to see. They opened up their shop last spring in Roseville’s Utica Junction area.
The business started as a hobby, a husband and a wife who enjoyed making their own fruit wines for family and friends. At the urging of others, they opened a business. During the summer, they had good success with walk-in traffic and then a busy holiday season.
“Anything that’s going to encourage walking traffic in this area, I think is only going to help our business,” Kirk Matheson said. “We benefit when people walk by to go to the Roseville Clock Shop and see us. People go down the street to get scones or want to check out the new Julia’s Treasures from the Earth shop, that’s good for this whole area.” Treasures from the Earth opened in Roseville, almost across the street from the planned new pavilion, after renovating an old building. The business relocated from the now-closed Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens. The shop specializes in gems, hand-crafted jewelry and gift items.
For Adkins and city administrators, the bustling new and well-established shops in the Utica Junction is part of an intentional focus to revitalize the area as a hub for small businesses and specialty shopping. Some traffic flows in the area have been changed in an effort to create more and easier parking access for the buildings.
The Phase I streetscape, parking improvements, downtown lighting, landscaping and other improvements along Utica Road is estimated at nearly $720,000, the majority of that coming from state funds. Phase I will be completed in 2018. A Phase II, which will create the actual pavilion and related projects, will cost about $850,000 and be completed in 2019. That money is coming from a variety of city, state and DDA sources. The actual final design of the pavilion is expected to be modified to align with available funding. Already, in 2017, the city spent about $750,000 in the area to replace an aging water main in the area and did some related road re-building.
While all that has been going on in Utica Junction, a major change was happening at Macomb Mall. The mall was purchased in 2013 by Lormax Stern, an Oakland County-based property management and development firm. Since then, the mall has enjoyed a quiet resurgence with a major upgrade, an influx of new tenants a sprucing up of its landmark sign at the corner of Gratiot and Masonic Road.
“We pride ourselves on being a part of the eastside, a part of the community,” said Apple Wick, assistant general manager at the mall. “We are not fl ashy, but I think that is part of what helps us to keep focused. We have community events in the mall every week, some are small, some are larger like hosting the Macomb County Walk for Warmth.
“Events like that support the community and the community supports us and our tenants,” she said. To support efforts at the mall, the city will be doing some reconstruction along Beaconsfi eld, along the mall’s western edge. The street work will include some amenities to help encourage walking paths from the local neighborhood into the mall property. All totaled, more than $100 million worth of business re-investment has happened in the city since 2013, Adkins said. “Changes afoot in her hometown, while staying true to a family-based heritage, makes now an exciting time in Roseville,” said Pat Chownyk, the president of the Roseville Historical & Genealogical Society. “Gratiot has always been the ‘Main Street’ for the east side,” she said. “The city is working very hard to keep it that way. I think those of us who remember a day when the Utica Junction area was really a hub for the whole community have high hopes in what is happening today.”