Downtown Jackson Alleyway


In downtown Jackson, a project that started with a single underappreciated alley has grown into a district-wide ball of momentum. Staff from the City of Jackson approached the PlacePlans team in late 2013 looking for assistance with redesigning an alley cutting through downtown. The alley was under the radar for many of those who frequented downtown, but the city identified it as a priority due to its potential to better connect several key sites: the public transit center, Michigan Avenue businesses, the farmer’s market, the Grand River, and Grand River Brewery, a new business that was quickly becoming a magnet for activity.

The MSU faculty and student team took the lead on engaging the community through a design charrette process to identify creative options for the alley in early 2014. This engagement process revealed that the community had its eye on a much broader transformation to attract new businesses and residents to the entire downtown. The City, led by City Manager Patrick Burtch, decided it needed to invest more significantly in downtown public space and infrastructure, so it engaged Beckett & Raeder, Inc. (BRI) to develop a comprehensive streetscape plan for Michigan Avenue and adjacent side streets. The entire process was ultimately branded “Dig Jackson.” The City Council set aside $3.5 million to fund the infrastructure improvements, and the construction phase of Dig Jackson began in late summer 2014.

Soon thereafter, a number of major businesses and other institutions in Jackson launched the Jackson Anchor Initiative to organize and coordinate their investments in downtown, as well as to attract additional investment. In the vision shared by the Anchor Initiative leaders and City officials, Dig Jackson was not the end, but the beginning. The ultimate goals were redevelopment of vacant historic buildings and blighted parcels, creating an environment for more downtown residents and businesses. Beginning in 2015, that vision has come together more quickly than many expected as evidenced by:

  • Five new restaurants have followed Grand River Brewery’s lead and opened in downtown, including Dirty Bird, which opens onto the revitalized downtown alley as envisioned in the PlacePlan
  • Home Renewal Systems announced plans to renovate the historic Hayes Hotel, vacant since 2003, to house a mixture of hotel, residential, office and commercial uses
  • Three other development teams have announced mixed-use housing developments, including Lofts on Louis, which will fill in a vacant block on Louis Glick Highway
  • Glick Highway will be converted into a more pedestrian-friendly two-way street
  • The Jackson Art Commission coordinated the expansion of Horace Blackman Park and development of a new public space, CP Federal City Square, which was funded by state, federal and philanthropic grants.


Dr. Patrick Burtch, Jackson City Manager, 517-788-4035

Media Coverage