This story was originally featured in the Fall 2022 issue of EnergySmarts magazine, written by Jim Utsler and photography by Brad Ziegler. For more great stories on how to save energy and money, subscribe to EnergySmarts here.
A bright future
DTE’s Outdoor Protective Lighting program helps revitalize downtown St. Clair’s Riverview Plaza.
A business’s outdoor lighting doesn’t just play a role in the aesthetic of the property it illuminates. It’s also a necessary safety feature.
That’s in part why the Riverview Plaza in downtown St. Clair decided to work with DTE Energy and its Outdoor Protective Lighting program to improve the lighting in the plaza parking lot as part of a larger renovation project.
New developments prompt upgrades
This was no small task given that the plaza — designed to house multiple retail shops, restaurants and more — was built way back in 1969 as part of a downtown revitalization program. According to Pat Coughlin, a plaza board member, the plaza had recurring issues with the roof, sewer lines and other vital parts of its infrastructure, including its old parking lot.
Several recent developments on and by the property — including the addition of a courtyard gathering space, the construction of a theater and the renovation of a nearby inn — prompted a host of overdue upgrades at the plaza.
Thankfully, both St. Clair County and the city of St. Clair — and, by extension, the Riverview Plaza — had a benefactor on their side: the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.
“We conduct a lot of grantmaking in and around downtown St. Clair that enhances the vibrancy of the community,” said Randy Maiers, president and CEO of the foundation. “So, for example, we fund their parks programs and related beautification efforts, and several years ago we funded the creation of the courtyard gathering space at the Riverview Plaza.
“Developments such as these have had a tremendous impact on downtown by giving people a centralized city center to gather in.”
Because of the anticipated increase in visitor traffic from the courtyard, theater and inn projects, the Riverview Plaza and the foundation planned to address several issues with the plaza’s parking lot, including potholes, an insufficient number of spaces and outdated lighting.
A team effort
To that end, they hired engineers to reconfigure the parking lot and contractors to rip off the surface and replace it. For the lighting portion of the project, they contacted another expert: their energy company.
“We reached out to our friends at DTE, who have helped us on previous projects,” Maiers said.
DTE didn’t simply add new bulbs to existing fixtures and call it a day. Instead, the energy company pulled out all the stops, designing new lighting layouts, laying underground cable, and updating lighting posts and fixtures while the lot was being renovated.
The DTE team worked closely with the foundation, engineers and contractors to help ensure that everything fell into place with minimal delays. Because the parking lot was still in use at the time, this type of coordination was essential.
“We worked up a timeline with all parties to meet the foundation’s overall deadline expectations,” said Courtney Baum, the DTE account manager in charge of the lighting upgrades.
A recouped investment
Now, the plaza lot is safer and more aesthetically pleasing. The potholes are gone, the parking lot surface is fresh and smooth, and the lights are bright and updated.
The cost savings from the new lighting have been another benefit. The 206-watt LED lights the plaza installed are much less expensive to operate than the 1,000-watt metal halide lights it had previously been using.
“The lighting was well worth the expense,” Coughlin said. “Because we’ll be saving $6,000 in lighting costs every year, we’ll have a nice offset against that initial up-front payment and will have recouped that in 15, 16 years.”
An additional benefit is that the involvement of DTE’s Outdoor Protective Lighting program doesn’t end once upgrades are complete. On the contrary, the program’s services include all lighting maintenance. If any DTE-related lighting issues arise, such as outages, knockdowns or failures of any kind, DTE representatives will come out and fix the issue at no additional out-of-pocket cost.
“Our customers never have to worry about maintenance because it’s part of our program,” Baum said. “Because we do the work, they don’t have to hunt around for somebody else to help them. All they have to do is call us.
“We try to make everything as simple and convenient for our customers as we can, from design and engineering to installation and maintenance.”
Designed for the community
This collaborative renovation project has already paid off in many nonfinancial ways. Indeed, it’s been a win for everyone who owns a shop or restaurant in the plaza, their patrons and other visitors, and the city as a whole.
“The plaza is a hub of activity,” Maiers said. “Their restaurants, shops and cafes are booming. It has huge crowds [in the] evenings and [on the] weekends, and now they have a beautiful, well-lit parking lot that will entice even more people to join in on the fun.
“All of this has made downtown St. Clair one of the most popular destinations in the region — and this is by design, not happenstance.”