2017-03-02 / News

Downtowns See Positive Results From Main Street Programs

By Carl Stoddard
Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

Grayling is a member. So are Three Rivers, Blissfield, and downtown Lansing.

In all, nearly two dozen communities in Michigan are members of the Michigan Main Street initiative.

The goal of the program, coordinated by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), is to help Michigan cities breathe new life into their downtowns and central business districts.

Grayling is in the middle of its second year in the Main Street program, said Rae Gosling, director of Grayling’s Main Street initiative.

“It’s going well,” Ms. Gosling said. “We are very active in the program.

“I think the big difference Grayling has seen is involving the community.”

With the Main Street program, Grayling has “a vessel to pull people together, drawing in our volunteers, drawing in our residents,” she said.

Since becoming a Main Street member community, she said, Grayling has increased the number of its retail events, drawing more people to the downtown district.

Grayling also worked with a consultant to create a logo, a brand, and a new marketing strategy.

It doesn’t cost anything to apply to be a Main Street community, she said, but money is needed for the local program’s operating budget, training, and economic development efforts.

“It’s an investment in our community,” Ms. Gosling said.

Three Rivers became a Michigan Main Street community nearly four years ago, said David Vago, the executive director of the city’s Main Street program.

Three Rivers’ biggest gain since joining Main Street “is not yet evident on the street,” Mr. Vago said.

But that’s about to change. Three significant businesses are under construction in Three Rivers. They are a brewpub, a general store, and a coffee shop. Plans for a restaurant are also in the works.

“Our group has been working for three years to get businesses downtown,” Mr. Vago said.

Like Grayling, the program encouraged Three Rivers to organize a team of volunteers “to take grassroots interest and organize it,” Mr. Vago said.

Blissfield joined the Michigan Main Street program in 2010, said Tyler Dotson, director of the village’s Downtown Development Authority.

“Our affiliation with the Main Street program allowed us to get organized,” Mr. Dotson said.

He said Main Street provided resources to recruit and empower local volunteers. That allowed Blissfield to add more events and to grow some existing ones, like the annual Blissfield Tractor Cruise-in. That mid- August event typically attracts 80 to 100 tractors and hundreds of spectators.

The Main Street program gives Blissfield access to marketing experts, advertising specialists, and even architects, he said. And several times a year, representatives from Michigan Main Street communities get together to share ideas and best practices.

Hart has been in the program since 2010, said Julie Kreilick, Hart’s Main Street manager. Membership, she said, has its benefits.

It has prompted $1.2 million in private investment in Hart since 2010. In the same period, the program brought in 20 new businesses and led to the improvement of 45 facades in the downtown district.

Since 2010, Hart’s program also has attracted 16,000 hours in volunteers’ time.

“So we have a lot to be proud of,” Ms. Kreilick said.

The program was the driving force behind creation of Hart Commons, an outdoor theater overlooking Hart Lake.

“It has been a lovely addition to our community,” she said.

Laura Krizov, manager of the Michigan Main Street Center at the MEDC, said the program offers a comprehensive management tool for “downtown revitalization that is grassroots driven.”

“Main Street is about the business, property owners, municipality, residents, and other organizations within the community wanting to make their downtown a better place,” Ms. Krizov said. “We say that if you have a strong downtown, you will have a strong community.”

Michigan Main Street assists cities in attracting new residents and business development, and spurring economic growth and job creation.

Communities in the program advance through a four-step process. Eleven communities have reached the highest level in the process and now are called Master Communities. They are Blissfield, Boyne City, Grand Haven, Hart, Howell, Niles, Old Town in Lansing, Owosso, Portland, Saline, and Wayland.

Seven other communities have reached the Select Communities level. They are Charlevoix, downtown Lansing, Grayling, Milan, Otsego, Three Rivers, and Wayne.

Downtown Lansing joined the program in July 2008. Downtown Lansing Inc. manages its program..

“We take a smart, common-sense approach to building a vibrant Lansing through historic preservation, community self-reliance, and local ownership,” says the Downtown Lansing Inc. Web site. “Our goal is to strengthen the social economic health of our downtown and our community.”

Cheboygan has been chosen to enter the associate level of the Michigan Main Street program, one of several improvement initiatives underway there. Cheboygan is also involved with a separate effort, the Redevelopment Ready Communities program. Additionally, Cheboygan received an Infrastructure Capacity Enhancement grant that it will use to completely rebuild Huron Street, including upgrading water utility infrastructure and replacement of sidewalks, curbs, and gutters.

“Over the last two to three years, the city of Cheboygan has implemented several changes to better position themselves as a community hungry for new private investment,” said Dan Leonard of MEDC in a release. “Through the renovation of existing building stock, public infrastructure, and creative public spaces, these impact projects raise awareness to existing citizens and visitors alike on Cheboygan and all of its unique assets. In general, it seems like there is a renewed interest in downtown and its economic and social impacts on the region.”

In one year, participating Michigan Main Street communities generated more than $47 million in private investment, 100 new businesses, and 120 facade improvements, according to the Michigan Main Street Center.

Michigan Main Street, which began in 2003, is affiliated with the Main Street America program and the National Main Street Center. The program also works in partnership with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

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