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Grosse Pointe City hopes to bolster Village through participation in state programs

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 20, 2019

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Grosse Pointe City leaders are hoping to take advantage of a couple of statewide programs to revive and protect their downtown shopping district.

The City is working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and its Main Street program to come up with plans to make the Village more attractive for businesses and residents, now and in the future. Main Street’s four-pronged approach looks at economic viability, design and maintenance to improve the district’s aesthetic appeal, organization to build community and stakeholder consensus, and promotion of the district through special events and marketing.

As Leigh Young, a Main Street specialist with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, explained during a June 17 City Council meeting, the Main Street approach “is a community-driven economic development strategy” that is all about “community buy-in.”

The first step in the process — a daylong training session — is one the City has already taken, with several members of the City Council and the Downtown Development Authority having attended. The council voted unanimously June 17 in favor of initiating the Michigan Main Street/Redevelopment Ready Communities application process, as well as coming up with a plan for implementing and budgeting for this initiative.

Young said communities that are part of the Michigan Main Street program include Wayne, Dearborn, Howell and Flat Rock. Oakland County is part of the national Main Street program, she said.

Young said the Main Street program officials would work with City leaders to understand their vision for the downtown, to determine what the community wants and to reveal what the community can support.

“We work to enhance the sense of vibrancy … sense of place, sense of community … (and) sense of ownership (in the downtown),” Young said. “We work to leverage the assets your community already has.”

It’s about more, she said, than having “a really great master plan.”

At a July 15 council meeting, officials took another step forward in the process by unanimously approving a related resolution supporting participation in the MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program. City Manager Pete Dame has already undergone the training to become certified as a Redevelopment Ready professional, but the City as a whole needs to be certified, which requires a self-evaluation of the municipality’s development processes. This evaluation includes determining how well the City measures up when it comes to best practices as identified by the MEDC.

“It’s also required if you want to get redevelopment funds from the state,” Dame said.

Mayor Christopher Boettcher noted that the City would “be eligible for grants to become certified” by undertaking this assessment. Dame said technical assistance grants of as much as $20,000 are available to help offset any expenses associated with the certification process.

“There’s no financial commitment as far as we’re concerned,” said Dominic Romano, a community assistance team specialist with the MEDC. “All of your assistance is free.”

More than 260 communities are engaged or certified as Redevelopment Ready communities, Romano said.

“We give you the tools and resources. … It’s like business planning for your local government,” he said.

It’s also an opportunity to learn from fellow member communities. Romano said members share their own experiences and findings “all the time” regarding what works and what doesn’t.

The Main Street and Redevelopment Ready programs are separate, but state officials say they’re related and complement each other. Young said many communities go through both programs at the same time.

The City and the DDA are working on the second step in the Michigan Main Street program, a one- to three-year commitment that would enable the community to reach the Select level of the program.

The typical Main Street program budget is $150,000 to $190,000, which includes roughly $50,000 for a full-time executive director for the City’s program, Young said. Funds can’t just come from Tax Increment Finance, of TIF, dollars; she said there needs to be buy-in from the stakeholders — the City, businesses and the community.

The city often contributes $20,000 to $50,000 toward the total budget, but not necessarily in dollars — it might be in paying for access to city benefits and the like, Young said. She said many member communities offer façade grants to businesses; for example, a city might give $5,000 to $10,000 to businesses that are willing to redo their facades. Young said the City doesn’t need to have the funds on hand, but does need to create a fundraising plan.

In the case of the City, the DDA board would become the City’s local Main Street organization, Young said. The Michigan Main Street Center works with communities to provide assistance, direction, support and knowledge.

Dame said there’s no budget now for an executive director. The city manager is the head of the City’s DDA, but he said he doesn’t get paid for that.

Along with working with the DDA, Boettcher said the City’s Main Street executive director would coordinate with the council, the Village Association and the nonprofit Grosse Pointe City Foundation. Young explained that the director builds and cultivates partnerships with all of the stakeholders.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do if it’s something we want to pursue,” Dame told the council.

In the last 15 years, the Michigan Main Street Center said, there has been nearly $260 million in private investment made in participating communities.

City Councilwoman Sheila Tomkowiak was among those advocating for participation in the program.

“One of the things we have talked about is developing and implementing a clear vision (for the Village),” she said. “I am totally supportive of this.”

Tomkowiak said other communities have benefited from the program.

“There’s a proven methodology that works,” she said.

City Councilman John Stempfle agreed, saying he would love to get input from an independent source. The City already has an “excellent” downtown, he said.

“I want to make it more exciting, more vibrant,” Stempfle said.