‘We have to jump in and do it ourselves’

RC unveils economic development plan to residents

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Joe Borgstrom, consultant with the East Lansing-based firm Place and Main, shares details of Rogers City’s new economic development plan with the public on Wednesday at the Rogers City Theater.

ROGERS CITY — Rogers City will need buy-in from the community if it’s going to continue to flourish, Mayor Scott McLennan told residents on Wednesday.

Joe Borgstrom, a consultant with the East Lansing-based firm Place and Main, on Wednesday told residents as well as city and Presque Isle County officials it would be up to them to reinvigorate the city.

McLennan and Borgstrom spoke during the reveal of the city’s new economic development plan on Wednesday at the Rogers City Theater.

“The people who you are waiting to save you are in this room,” Borgstrom said. “Nobody from the outside is going to save you.”

During the presentation, Borgstrom told residents the average age of a Rogers City resident is 53.7 and the city is at risk of losing 22% of its population — or 800 people — by 2024. He said “the bogeyman” — or biggest threat to the city — would be apathy, combined with population decline. He said residents will have to find a way to draw younger people back into the community.

Borgstrom told residents that access to nature is the town’s most valuable asset, but it also has weaknesses, such as vacant storefronts, no community branding, a lack of vocational training, and a resistance to change.

He said there are also many opportunities the community could pursue, including an increase in tourism, the expansion of trails, fishery improvements, and the redevelopment of the Grambau Education Center, a vacant former high school currently bought sought for repurposing by the Presque Isle District Library.

Borgstrom said Rogers City employers need younger, talented workers.

Borgstrom recommended the creation of a convention and visitors bureau and exploring a special tax for marketing or advertising, which would allow the city to levy between 1 and 4 mills of property tax which would generate between $50,000 and $250,000 in revenue. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay about $50 a year for a 1-mill tax, or $200 a year for a 4-mill tax.

Borgstrom also recommended encouraging new housing, such as apartments, increasing the number of housing units downtown, and a moratorium on short-term rentals, such as Airbnb. He said Airbnb rentals are really killing communities in northern Michigan.

“Every house that’s taking up an Airbnb rental is one less house where there’s going to be a kid going to our school, one less person that is going to be here, right now in November, when it’s snowing and our businesses need our support,” he said.

City Manager Joe Hefele said he expects the redevelopment plan to be finalized in December.

The plan, part of Rogers City’s attempts to attain Redevelopment Ready Community status from the state, would then need to go to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for approval. Redevelopment Ready status would make it easier for the city to receive state grants.

After the MEDC, it would go before the city’s Planning Commission for approval and then move on to the Rogers City City Council for approval.

Hefele said city officials don’t want the plan to be put on a shelf and collect dust. He said they will arrange another meeting to engage the community in the near future.

“Reach out to your friends and neighbors and family members to promote this,” McLennan, the mayor, told residents attending the event. “This only is going to happen if we all work hard together to make it happen. You can’t sit back and think that it’s going to magically happen, that somebody else is going to do it. We don’t have somebody else. This is Rogers City, we don’t have a big, paid staff. We have to jump in and do it ourselves.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.