Lens put on Gratiot Avenue for business façade improvements

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published October 15, 2020


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Gratiot Avenue continues to be a point of economic emphasis, as evidenced by a new façade improvement program.

Recently, the township announced the program and its association with the Clinton Township Downtown Development Authority.

The DDA began in 2003 with multiple objectives that included LED lighting along the Gratiot corridor, as well as landscaping improvements and newer entrance signs at the north and south ends to delineate DDA boundaries.

In 2019, the Township Planning Department discovered that the Tax Increment Finance Plan and DDA Work Plan had expired without extension or renewal. That same year, a new work plan was adopted and approved by the Township Board of Trustees.

The façade improvement plan is just one of the DDA’s immediate objectives, in addition to better revenue capture, maintaining street lighting and landscaping, and promoting the Gratiot Cruise — which was canceled this year due to COVID-19.

“Getting the façade improvement program off the ground took some time because of the pandemic, but we’re going now with a $50,000 investment into the Gratiot corridor,” said Township Supervisor Bob Cannon in a press release. “These funds will help our business owners leverage their own dollars to improve storefronts and encourage redevelopment.”

Brandon Jonas, Clinton Township’s first ever director of economic development, said the $50,000 comes from the township’s general fund.

The intent of the façade program is for businesses along the corridor to get estimates for improvements, which are turned over to the Planning Department and then recommended to the DDA board for final approval.

Façade improvements translate to physical improvements that enhance general aesthetics. Landscaping is not eligible for this project scope.

“It’s just trying to reencourage redevelopment along the corridor,” Jonas said. “Some of the buildings have code enforcement issues or are getting deteriorated. It’s really about getting rid of the blighted properties, and hopefully this program will allow business owners to develop their properties and bring new businesses in, and hopefully create new jobs in the township.”

Jonas, who came to the township after years of working in Roseville, is familiar with Gratiot Avenue’s strengths and challenges.

He mentioned the new Kroger on 13 Mile Road, which had a physical effect on a nearby Meijer location in the form of a business facelift.

“It’s kind of like buying a house,” he said. “You don’t want a neighbor with bad housing.”

Jonas is hopeful this program “will bridge that gap” between new, inviting storefronts and creating traffic — such as more citizens walking to destinations, more future events on the corridor and additions to the streetscape, like new road banners.

That would lead to what he described as a “sense of place,” bringing communities together for social gatherings. It could mean having small businesses like food trucks present in the area and businesses offering residents more jobs.

“I think it’s an opportunity for the business owners to improve, draw more people into the area,” he said.

While relatively new on the job, Jonas said the township’s biggest advantages include commercial corridors, like Hall Road, and numerous parks.

The biggest challenge remains Groesbeck Highway, which officials hope will be on the right path to revitalization due to a strategic plan and market study.