So far it's thumbs up for mural

Visitors walk down the stairs from Lake Bluff Park, where a 3-D mural of butterflies was created during the Chalk the Block event earlier this month. Amy Zapal, executive director of St. Joseph Today, which commissioned the mural, said the art work is getting positive reviews and should last through the fall. It hasn’t been decided whether a permanent painting will be created there.

ST. JOSEPH — A butterfly mural on the stairs leading up to St. Joseph’s Lake Bluff Park and downtown will remain at least through the fall, but it’s unsure whether it will morph into a more permanent work of art.

There have been “nothing but great comments” about the mural, created by artist Anat Ronen, during the recent Chalk the Block exhibit, St. Joseph Today Executive Director Amy Zapal told city commissioners Monday.

Commissioners gave their approval earlier this year for the work that would be rendered in tempera paint, rather than longer-lasting acrylic, to determine public reaction.

The Texas-based artist started painting at 10:30 p.m. on the Wednesday before Chalk the Block, and continued through the weekend until its completion, Zapal said.

From the bottom of the stairs the butterflies appear three-dimensional. Zapal said the best vantage point is on the other side of the railroad tracks. The images are on the risers and can’t be seen by people coming down the stairs, avoiding distractions that could cause falls.

Commissioner Laura Goos said she saw “a ton of excitement as soon as it was done.”

Zapal said she wanted to see how the work came out before issuing a news release, which she expects to send out this week.

The mural should last at least through the fall, and possibly through the winter, Zapal said.

Whether a permanent design is created will be up to city officials, and will also depend on available funding, Zapal said after the meeting.

Zapal said the St. Joseph parks board was “amazingly helpful” in planning for the mural. Financial support was provided by the Southwest Michigan Realtors Association and Edward Todd.

Mayor Mike Garey sees the mural as another way to promote St. Joseph, as people take photos and send them to their friends.

Anat Ronen is the artist who painted a nostalgic sunset scene on the back wall of the St. Joseph Today Welcome Center.

Zapal said that private property owners have expressed an interest in having murals painting on their buildings.

All of this will expand the footprint of downtown and bring more people to support local merchants, Zapal said.

Non-motorized paths

In other business, commissioners gave the go-ahead to construct non-motorized paths along Kingsley, Morton and Orchard avenues and Langley Avenue when the streets and sewers are rebuilt in 2020 and 2021.

The 10-foot non-motorized paths, replacing 5-foot-wide sidewalks, were the preferred choice over bike paths, of residents attending meetings last year, City Engineer Tim Zebell told commissioners.

During an open house in November, bike paths received five votes in favor, as opposed to 29 against, Zebell said.

Work is scheduled for next year on Kingsley, from Niles Avenue to Morton; on Morton, from Kingsley to Orchard; and Orchard, from Morton to Langley.

Work will take place in 2021 on Langley, from Pearl Street to Napier Avenue.

Zebell said the work is necessary because 57 percent of the sewers in the area are in poor or very poor shape. Many fire hydrants have a flow below the required 500 gallons per minute, he added.

Having non-motorized paths, similar to what was constructed on Wallace Avenue last year, is part of the city’s master plan, he explained. They are also required to make the city eligible for $720,000 in transportation funding.

Widening the paths will mean losing some parking, Zebell said. To compensate, angled parking will be added in the neighborhood.

Under the proposal, Langley will only have short-term parking spaces for deliveries and lawn service and other brief stops.

Some trees also will need to be removed, Zebell said. Many of the existing trees are too large and too old, and the roots are affecting underground pipes.

To replace the trees, staff members are working on a policy that would allow the city to plant trees on private property, Zebell said. Residents were concerned that they would have to pay for replacements for the 10-foot path. Instead, the city will pick up half the cost so owners aren’t paying anything additional.

Zebell said that there would be a lot more communication with residents as construction nears.

The mayor emphasized that the city doesn’t want to do projects like this without public input, and without explaining why they are needed.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak