Economic development requires patience

A park. No, not a park. A parking lot. Except we don’t need more parking.

We just need people willing to walk to their destination. We need more parking, but not in a lot. A parking garage would be better. But it must be free parking. An apartment complex would be great in that space. But no, not apartments. High-end condos make more sense. How about a multi-purpose building with retail, office space, and condos? Except not condos.

You know, you’ll never fill that much retail space, how about a hotel? But we would rather see a bed and breakfast. Maybe a multi-plex movie theater or a sports complex complete with fowling, axe throwing, and rock-wall climbing. The plaza that was proposed for downtown could go there. That would be best.

But no, it wouldn’t. Just because.

Those are all real, unsolicited ideas that have been shared with us about the vacant lot on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Water Street. It used to be the location of Alpena Power Co. Through a lot of creative actions and assembly of virtual puzzle pieces, the lot is now void of a structure and belongs to Target Alpena Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit economic development organization that is very closely linked to the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce.

The lot has been structure-free for about three years. Work to develop the lot has been going on just as long.

Here is what the path to development of that property looks like. Keep in mind that this work happens while other projects are also being worked on by economic development staff.

One of the first things that happens is development of a complete assessment of the lot. Property size, zoning, property history, environmental information, ordinances that impact the location, programs that may be applicable to it, and all the other details.

Discussions are had with the economic development board, area business and community leaders, government officials, and others. Input is continuously accepted by anyone who feels they want to give input (not solicited, comments come in organically for projects like this). Needs of the community are explored (using studies and other sources).

All that information is used to determine the reality of what is possible, what would work best and be most fitting for the community in that location.

That takes lots of time and lots of conversations. Then, when there is an understanding of what is realistic and appropriate, the calls begin. But not before doing research on developers who might be interested in the property and have a history of development projects similar to what was determined for that location. Some calls are cold calls and then relationships must be formed. Some calls are made to people with whom established relationships already exist. The tours and site visits then begin. Developers don’t always come from within the same town as the project. Connections are made. Development projects rarely have just one interested party. There are the developers, funding partners, and a construction component.

The math begins. Most development comes down to math. It must make financial sense to whatever parties are involved in the developing. Costs and return on investment must be aligned.

This is a process. Think about it. If a call is made, and there is positive interest in further exploration, then follow-up work must be done. A packet of information is submitted that includes site information, market data and community data. A tour is scheduled, and then usually a few more tours with different potential partners. More partners usually must be found and persuaded to be involved. Proposals are submitted and negotiated and resubmitted and renegotiated. Conversations with zoning and planning officials are continuous, depending on the scope of the projects being proposed.

At any point in this process, the entire project might be halted. If the expectations of a partner are not being met by the project, they will likely walk away. If a developer has another project that is taking more time and needs their attention, their interest may wane. Something in the process may be too much of a red flag to move forward. There are many factors. That’s why the process takes so long.

In most cases, it takes years.

That is the reason we call financial support of economic development an investment.

Growth and development do not happen overnight. It is a very long process with lots of moving pieces. Because it is such a process, it is often difficult for those who are not closely related to the projects or to economic development efforts to see the work that is being done.

We want those who support economic development to know that we appreciate their consistent support.

It is likely no different than in your own life. Things that are worthwhile and most rewarding take time. It is a process with lots of thought and discussion. It takes an investment. Be patient as this community continues to move forward, even when it may be difficult to see.

Jackie Krawczak is president/CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs biweekly on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.