Muskegon Project Makes MEDC Cut

May 16, 2003
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Sustainability is the key for state economic developers weighing which communities across Michigan will get help in downtown revitalization efforts.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. next month will choose four communities from among 10 finalists — including Muskegon — to participate in the Main Street program, a 20-year-old nationwide initiative of the Main Street National Trust for Historic Preservation that offers a clearinghouse of best practices for downtown revitalization, development and management.

Criteria for judging the proposals from the finalist communities are geared toward rewarding those that have the best chances of success in the long term, MEDC spokeswoman Jennifer Owens said. The level of local financial and community support for the program, as well as the physical and economic condition of the Main Street district, are among the criteria used in determining which of the communities' plans wins MEDC support, Owens said.

"We want to make sure that it's a long-term, thought-out plan," she said. "It has to have the potential to sustain and for long-term success."

In Muskegon, the not-for-profit community development organization Neighborhood Development Corp., in a partnership with the Muskegon Arts and Entertainment District, formed a local Main Street program in downtown earlier this year that is modeled after the national initiative in place in 1,650 communities nationwide.

Muskegon Main Street Manager David Sperry believes organizers have just the type of support that MEDC wants to see.

The local initiative has secured pledges of $150,000 over three years, Sperry said.

The $50,000 in yearly funding secured to support the Main Street program comes from $20,000 each from the Neighborhood Investment Corp. and the Arts and Entertainment District, and a $10,000 gift from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.

The effort also has the backing of the Muskegon City Commission and a variety of organizations that have pledged to provide in-kind support through staff and volunteers to serve on Main Street committees, Sperry said.

The Muskegon Main Street district covers a 10-block area of downtown, along Western Avenue from Seventh Street, and down Third Street to Merrill Avenue. The area consists of 40 retail, commercial, office and public-sector properties, as well as 38 businesses and 29 commercial buildings, Sperry said.

The primary thrust of the effort is to restore the Main Street area to a thriving commercial and residential neighborhood.

Earning the state's backing would enable proponents of the Muskegon Main Street program to accelerate efforts and accomplish more in a shorter time period, Sperry said.

"We're going to get there one way or the other. This is going to help us get there quicker," he said. "It's going to really shorten that learning curve."

The National Main Street program emphasizes improving the physical appearance of a commercial district, an organizational structure that helps to build consensus and cooperation, marketing and promotion, and strengthening a downtown's economic base.

The MEDC will provide the four communities it chooses with administrative support through intensive, year-round training from state staff and the National Main Street Center, Owen said.

Twenty-three communities initially showed an interest in earning the MEDC's Main Street designation and filed letters of intent in February. Seventeen filed full applications in April.

The MEDC this month narrowed the list to 10 finalists They are: Muskegon, Boyne City, Calumet and Calumet Township, Clare, Escanaba, Linden, Marshall, Mount Clemens, Niles and Portland.               

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