Rochester Hills Wins 2021 Community Excellence Award Competition

Matt Bach
Michigan Municipal League
C: (810) 874-1073; [email protected]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 24, 2021

Rochester Hills Wins 2021 Community Excellence Award Competition

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan  The community of Rochester Hills was honored with the Michigan Municipal League’s 2021 Community Excellence Award on Sept. 24 during the League’s annual Convention in Grand Rapids.

The peer-nominated Community Excellence Award (CEA), affectionately called “The Race for the Cup,” was started by the League in 2007 to recognize innovative solutions taking place in Michigan’s cities, villages, and urban townships. It’s the highest and most prestigious award bestowed on a community by the statewide League.

The winning community, which is selected through a ballot-box style vote of League members attending Convention, receives a large trophy cup that they get to have on display for the next year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last winner was the Uptown Bay City Project in 2019.

Rochester Hills, located in Oakland County with a population of about 76,000, won the CEA for its Reimaging, Reinventing, and Renewing Auburn Road project.

“We are honored to have been selected by our peers,” said Bryan Barnett, Mayor of Rochester Hills.  “We are really lucky to live in what we think is one of greatest communities in Michigan. To take this home for our staff and our residents is a huge honor for our community. I loved our project and was confident, but after I watched the other three finalists, I thought all of them had great presentations and projects. So, to win among such a strong field is a great honor. A huge congratulations to all the finalists.”

After decades of discussion, Rochester Hills engaged in deliberate planning to transform the city’s aging Auburn Road corridor into a safe and attractive place for vehicles and pedestrians with the goal of creating a more walkable environment, encouraging (re)development opportunities, increasing parking, incorporating art and landscaping, and developing public open space to create a vibrant, desirable district. The project has served as a catalyst for community redevelopment, igniting investment and a true entrepreneurial ecosystem for businesses. The result is a safer, more connected and walkable corridor that supports economic development, spurs people to engage, and renews community pride.

Here’s a look at the other three finalists:

  • Delta Charter Township brought together regional partners to coordinate the Waverly Pathway Project with the reconstruction of a county road and a $60 million freeway project. Delta and adjacent Lansing Charter Township worked with multiple agencies to plan the new shared-use pathway to solve a lack of facilities and serious hazards to walkers and bikers in the project area. Neither community could afford to build the pathway on its own, so they worked together to secure three different grants totaling $874,000. The Waverly Pathway project was made possible through extraordinary multi-agency collaboration that improved safety, strengthened multimodal transportation connectivity, and enhanced recreational opportunities for residents of both communities.
  • East Lansing’s “Daytime. Nighttime. Anytime. Place Project” was originally envisioned to help the city’s downtown business community address the complex challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing enhanced options for outdoor dining and curbside pickup. As the city’s vision evolved, the project was expanded to include simple, cost-effective tactical urbanism techniques that reactivated and enhanced East Lansing’s downtown district through an eclectic mix of interesting, comfortable places, activities, and amenities. An underutilized parking garage was transformed into a farmers market; more than 300 pieces of K-12 student art were deployed at local businesses through an Art Popup Program; grass turf, tables and chairs, and hammocks were installed to create safe, welcoming spaces for relaxing, socializing, and outdoor dining, and more. Although these creative placemaking strategies were driven by the pandemic, the city hopes the “Daytime. Nighttime. Anytime. Place Project” results in long-term, community-driven enhancements and increased citizen engagement in downtown East Lansing.
  • Sterling Heights’ REcreating Recreation project is a transformational placemaking initiative that represents the single largest investment in quality-of-life services in the city’s history. Funded by a new millage, the ambitious project has provided opportunities for current and prospective residents to connect with their community in new, exciting, fun and inclusive ways, such as a new community center; an outdoor splash pad; a summer farmers market pavilion that transforms into a refrigerated ice rink in winter; a captivating skate park for all ages that prevents damage to other buildings; a mini-turf soccer field and an indoor bocce ball court; a new dog park for breeds of all sizes; a trail linking a city park with the city’s nature preserve featuring multiple respite and bike repair stations; and universally accessible paddle docks on the Clinton River for canoers and kayakers of all abilities, even those in wheelchairs.

The 2021 Race for the Cup began in the spring. The awards program received 25 entries this year, which is the most in a single year since the program started 14 years ago. Communities were encouraged to enter based on Civic Engagement, Innovative Delivery of Services, Intergovernmental Cooperation, Placemaking, Redevelopment, and COVID-19 Response & Recovery.

The competition included an online voting component open to the public with the top online vote getter (Sterling Heights) automatically advancing to the final four to compete at the Convention. The other three projects (Delta Charter Township, East Lansing, and Rochester Hills) were selected by a panel of judges.  The projects’ final score was based on the judges’ ranking (75 percent) and online voting (25 percent).

Judges for this year’s competition were Alfredo Hernandez, Racial Equity Officer, Michigan Department of Civil Rights; Amy Hovey, Special Projects Coordinator, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; and Chad Livengood, Senior Editor, Crain’s Detroit Business.

“We always get some amazing projects, programs, and initiatives for our Community Excellence Award program and this year was no exception,” said Dan Gilmartin, CEO and Executive Director of the Michigan Municipal League. “The four finalists all gave fantastic presentations at our Convention, and I’m told the voting among our members was extremely close. Congratulations to all the participants in this year’s record-setting CEA program.”

Representatives from the final four presented their projects at the League’s 2021 Convention in Grand Rapids, Sept. 22-24. After hearing the presentations, Convention attendees voted for their favorite project, with Rochester Hills receiving the most votes. View past CEA winners here.

For photos of the CEA winners, go to the “Awards and Honors” album on flickr:

Photos can be downloaded from the League’s flickr page for free. We just ask that the following photo credit be given: Michigan Municipal League/

For additional information, contact the League’s Matt Bach, assistant director of strategic communications, at (810) 874-1073 (cell) and [email protected].

Michigan Municipal Leagueis dedicated to making Michigan’s communities better by thoughtfully innovating programs, energetically connecting ideas and people, actively serving members with resources and services, and passionately inspiring positive change for Michigan’s greatest centers of potential: its communities. The League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services. Learn more at

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