ALPENA -Last year a section of downtown Alpena was selected to become a Michigan Main Street Associate Level member. Main Street is a federal and state powered initiative that provides communities resources and knowledge that can help them grow and become more vibrant.
Now the Alpena Downtown Development Authority and the Main Street Steering Committee intend to apply to be bumped up a level and achieve the select level. DDA Director Lesslee Dort said Alpena is one of 22 communities in Michigan that hold the associate tag and only eight hold the distinction of being select. Dort said the DDA and the committee have been following recommendations and requirements from Main Street for some time and by doing so it should give downtown Alpena a legitimate shot at the select level.
"Last year 22 communities were selected for associates and they only grant select to two or three each year. I like our chances, but we have to assume some of the other communities are going to try to advance as well," Dort said. "We have been following its four-point approach for some time. They look at four key factors they teach, which are design, promotion, economic restructuring and organization. We already have committees in place for each of them."
Dort said being at the associate level has some rewards and benefits, but if Alpena gets approved for select status, it will lead to many more perks from the Michigan Main Street initiative. She said it provides training for the committee members, as well as the store owners and employees, conducts market studies, building and business design services, as well as street scape visioning.
She said there also will be up to three facade grants available for projects annually for five years. Dort said there is a lot of work that needs to be done to meet the application deadline, but once completed she is hopeful Alpena will be chosen. She said if for some reason it is not, the DDA will be stronger because of the effort and will try again next year.
"The application we need to submit is an inch thick, but it is full of phenomenal information we should have at our fingertips anyways," Dort said. "Even if we aren't accepted the process of applying already makes us better positioned to go forward. This is all about getting new businesses into your downtown and new jobs. It is about economic vitality."
Some of the benefits and services of Michigan Main
* Orientation: An overview of the next five years of
service, including a schedule and expectations.
* Market Study and Updates: Researching and un-
derstanding commercial district's market and opportunities,
including housing for the downtown.
* Main Street Building Basics: Educational workshops
identifying principals of historic reservations, common
problems and design solutions.
* Design Services: Individualized design services for
three buildings per year, including schematic drawings,
paint samples, product information and budgets.
* Real Estate Development: Teaches the process of
Community Initiated Development, through real-life rede-
* Street Scape Visioning: Facilitate a visioning session
with members of the community to determine the long term
goals for street scape projects and funding.
* Michigan Main Street Road Signs: branded signage
announcing Michigan Main Street Designation.
Striving to be Select
The steering committee is made up of blend of people with associations to downtown and those who do not. Dort said Michigan Main Street likes a balance on the committees because it believes every downtown heavily relies on people from out of the immediate downtown area for business and their thoughts, concerns and opinions should carry a lot of weight.
"It will be the voice of the people on the committees that will decide in what direction we will go and how we shape downtown, which I find more conducive to a community," Dort said. "Businesses downtown are one of the largest employers, so why wouldn't we look for support from people out of the downtown area?
An area downtown will be designated as the "main street" and that is still being determined. Dort said having a concrete designation will not take place until Michigan Main Street staff helps with the process. She said it also can move and be changed to accommodate future growth.
"We need the area to be manageable and they help us with that. They will help us massage it to be the best fit for our community," Dort said. "Right now we are looking at Second Avenue, church to church, and we are trying to decide if we involve the intersection at Chisholm Street and go from First Avenue to Third Avenue. That seems to be the logical area."
Dort said the application must be submitted in the first part of December and the DDA and the committee should know if the select status is approved sometime in January.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com