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DDA recruits for downtown

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz The Alpena Downtown Development Authority, promoted on this sign in front of the downtown Christmas tree on Thursday, will try to recruit investors with a new program that will provide incentives to business owners. It hopes to bring types of stores that are currently lacking.

ALPENA — The Alpena Downtown Development Authority is moving forward with a new program that will offer assistance to existing businesses who want to move downtown.

The Downtown Retail Recruitment program has set aside $40,000 to offer grants of up to $20,000 to businesses that want to move downtown and fit niches that are needed in the city’s heart.

DDA board President Mike Mahler said adding more diversity to downtown shopping, dining, and entertainment would help to make a more well rounded downtown.

Mahler said the DDA hopes to recruit apparel and shoe stores, a bakery, convenience store, confectionary, gourmet foods, and more food and dining options.

Mahler said start-up businesses won’t be eligible for the grants.

“We want to create places to see and buy that we don’t have right now,” he said. “There may be businesses out there that are, or will be, looking for a new home, and we would like to have them downtown if they fit into our strategic plan.”

The idea for the program began when manufacturing outfit I2P purchased the Alpena Mall to expand, which means some of the current mall tenants will have to find a new place to open shop.

Mahler said that sparked the idea, but it morphed into something more than just catering to current mall lessees.

Mahler said businesses owners could receive up to $10,000 for the move and another $10,000 if they take advantage of the DDA’s facade grant program to beautify their new downtown exterior. He said the money could be used to help cover the cost of moving, to have utilities connected, for signage and facades, and to help make rent payments if they are larger than they currently pay.

“This is a significant amount of money to help,” Mahler said.

He said businesses who receive grants must agree to stay open a minimum of 48 hours a week, and on Saturdays.

“We really don’t want someone who is going to close every night at 5 p.m. and be closed all weekend,” he said.

Mahler said members of the DDA may try to recruit businesses outside of Alpena. He said if a business raises the eyebrows of DDA officials, they may prod the owner to see if there is any interest in expanding in Alpena.

At Tuesday’s DDA board meeting, there was some concern that already established downtown businesses, who are struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, might take issue with the DDA giving money to new businesses.

Mahler said the state, DDA, and other local funds have provided help earlier this year, and he’s hopeful more state and federal funding will be committed. He said the $40,000 allocated wouldn’t go far if split among all of the businesses downtown.

“This is more of a long-term investment,” he said. “My heart aches to see our business struggle, but, if we split that money up, it wouldn’t amount to much.”

Mahler said it may take the program awhile to reap benefits. Right now, there are few vacant storefronts, which means demand could exceed available inventory. In the coming months and years, Mahler said, that could change.

“We don’t have much open right now, but what if someone wants to buy the old antique store and wants to have retail shops on the first level?” he said. “This would be a good way to find businesses to fill it. You don’t know how things will look downtown in 12 to 18 months from now.”

Officials expected to review grant requests in the spring.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

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