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PROGRESS 2019: Communities ready for development

State offers technical assistance, money for best practices

News Photo by Crystal Nelson The former Dry Dock bar is currently under renovation to become Red Brick Tap and Barrel.

ROGERS CITY — Rogers City officials want to be ready for economic development opportunities when they come.

That’s why they have spent the better part of the past year working with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to earn certification as a Redevelopment Ready Community. The certification means a community is ready to assist developers with proposed projects. State certification makes communities more eligible for MEDC grants.

The state has certified 34 communities since the program launched in 2013 — including Alpena — out of 278 MEDC staff are guiding through the process. In addition to Rogers City, Hillman and Harrisville are pursuing Redevelopment Ready status.

Rogers City City Manager Joe Hefele said he, along with Zoning Administrator Toby Kuznicki, have made changes to the city’s planning and zoning documents to meet the requirements of the program and also be better prepared for potential development.

Hefele said those documents were “in pretty good shape,” but they didn’t have a community marketing plan or an economic development plan. Hefele said the city was able to receive a grant through MEDC to hire a consultant to draft those plans, which were released to the public in November.

“That’s already one benefit to doing this,” he said.

READYING RC

Hefele said the MEDC wants zoning ordinances to be developer-friendly, with the city’s planning and visioning already in place. The MEDC also wants communities to identify blighted, underutilized, or obsolete sites identified.

In addition to potentially enticing new developers, the MEDC’s guidance through the program can help the city help existing businesses, Hefele said.

“The new businesses are great,” he said. “We have a few that are on the verge of construction in Rogers City now. But we also have a great number of businesses that have been in town for generations that may be struggling. Doing whatever we can to work with them to ensure their survival and that they thrive is every bit as important as the new growth that we see.”

Michelle Parkkonen, director of technical assistance programs with the MEDC, said the Redevelopment Ready Communities program is a voluntary program available to communities statewide. She said the program is designed to promote effective redevelopment strategies through a set of best practices.

Communities who decide to participate do a self-evaluation, pass a resolution of intent to engage in the program, and are evaluated by MEDC planning staff, Parkkonen said.

“Once a community has met all the best practices, they are considered a certified Redevelopment Ready Community,” she said.

READY IN ALPENA

Alpena received its certification in 2018.

City Planning and Development Director Adam Poll said the city already had several of the plans and zoning ordinances in place, but the certification process provided technical assistance on updates and new plans.

“For instance, our downtown plan hadn’t been updated, I believe, since 2006, so we were able to utilize them for some of their technical assistance funds to get a portion of that downtown plan update paid for, as well as a marketing study,” Poll said.

The certification process forced officials to look at the city’s website to ensure all of the documents potential developers may need were accessible.

Earning the certification also gives city officials access to the state’s redevelopment services team, which is helping Alpena market some sites that are priorities for redevelopment, such as the former Alpena Power Co. property at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Water Street, and the former antique mall on 2nd Avenue downtown.

Poll said the former Dry Dock bar on River Street was also listed as one of the city’s priority sites when the property owner was debating what he wanted to do. That helped the city secure a community revitalization grant to renovate the building.

Plans are for the building to become the Red Brick Tap and Barrel Restaurant and to have five apartments on the second floor.

‘OPPORTUNITY COST’

While Alpena has had success in the program, Hillman officials are just beginning the certification process.

Village Manager Dave Post said officials are working on zoning changes and other updates, which they will coordinate with the village’s master plan. Post said they want the process to be easy for developers to navigate.

Hillman has a number of vacant stores in its downtown and Post said he would “absolutely” like to see more businesses there.

When people are not drawn into a community, there’s a cost, Post said. He said the economic term is called “opportunity cost.”

“Let’s say somebody has to go to the pharmacy,” Post explained. “While they go to the pharmacy, they may stop somewhere else or they might stop and get something to eat after they’re done or they might stop at another store. If you don’t have that many businesses that are open down there, that means that other businesses that are open might be losing an opportunity because those other businesses are closed.”

Post said the Redevelopment Ready certification process is important as the community faces some challenges, including the potential closure of the Hillman Power plant.

“We just think, especially at this time when Hillman Power isn’t operating as much and the long-term prospect of it isn’t sure, that right now would be a good time to do some planning for the future and get some goals for the future,” he said.

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

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