The tantalizing aroma of freshly-roasted chicken and thick, juicy steaks wafted through the dining room of Webster’s Prime, accompanied by artfully-prepared salads and vegetable creations. Many of the delectable items on the restaurant’s menu are locally-sourced from places like Kirklin Farms and Green Gardens. The fine dining establishment’s support of local food producers garnered it a special place in the local food chapter of the League’s new book, “The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.”

Nate-ShawOn Nov. 7, Webster’s hosted a book-signing event to help us introduce the book to the Kalamazoo community. League authors Dan Gilmartin, Colleen Layton, and Elizabeth Phillips Foley were on hand to share their experiences traveling around the state in search of inspirational placemaking stories on local food, arts and culture, bike trails and much more. Webster’s chef Nate Shaw, featured in the book, split his time between the kitchen and the dining room to help with the celebration. Shaw’s commitment to local food runs so deep that he even gets down in the dirt to help local farmers tend their crops.

Order a copy of the book to find out how the Kalamazoo community is cultivating the foodie movement, and how you might be able to apply similar placemaking strategies in your own community.

Book-poster-close-up-blogExcitement filled the air as a crowd of about 70 Baroda-area residents packed the patio of the village’s downtown Round Barn Public House. The occasion was a celebration of Baroda’s revitalization efforts, which are featured in the League’s new book, “The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.”

League executive director and CEO Dan Gilmartin commended Baroda for its 12-year initiative to rebrand the area as “The Heart of Wine Country.” Working collaboratively, the communities of Baroda, Baroda Township, Bridgman, Lake Township, Oronoko Township and Berrien Springs were successful in creating an agritourism destination focused on their wineries. The results can be seen in the thousands of tourists and visitors that are now drawn to the region every year to enjoy not only the tasting rooms, but the antique shops, art galleries, and unique stores that now fill once-vacant storefronts.

Gilmartin shared with the audience that they have accomplished one of the primary tenets of placemaking – acting locally to make your place a great place to be. He reminded them that in today’s mobile society where people can live and work anywhere they want, it’s a community’s sense of place that attracts new residents and businesses. More than anything, it’s the human experience that matters. Places like Baroda that build communities for people rather than cars and celebrate their uniqueness are the ones that will be successful in growing over the long term.

Being transitional is also an important part of the process, said Gilmartin. In our fast-changing world, local governments need to be flexible, open to new ideas, and collaborative with local businesses, civic groups and neighboring communities. And when entrepreneurs come knocking on their door, municipalities should look for ways to be supportive and help the entrepreneur’s vision spring to life.

Mayors-legislators-with-book-tributes-blogState Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs (left), and State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph (right), were also on hand for the festivities. They presented Bob Getz, Baroda Village Council president, and Hannah Anderson, Bridgman mayor, with signed tributes applauding the communities for their efforts to transform and establish themselves as valuable assets in the county and region.



Check out our photos of the event. You just might spot a picture of yourself!


For details and ordering information for “The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities,” visit economicsofplace.com.

The air is crisp, trees are ablaze with color, and pumpkins are everywhere just waiting to be carved into spooky designs. It’s the perfect time to scare-up a Halloween-themed event to draw people into your downtown.

Northville-Skeletons-Alive-3-blogCommunities all across Michigan have found unique ways to do just that. The event can be as simple as trick-or-treating at local businesses or as elaborate as Northville’s month-long Skeletons Are Alive creation. For the past four years, the city’s DDA has scattered skeletons all over town in whimsical poses. You might find them dancing, scuba diving or stirring up a pot of some unknown concoction. A walking map guides residents and visitors to the location of all the skeletons, which just happen to be in and around many of the city’s charming shops and restaurants.

Plymouth-Pumpkin-Palooza-blogIn nearby Plymouth, the DDA’s Pumpkin Palooza takes over downtown on a Sunday near Halloween. The streets are closed to make room for a variety of games and activities for young and old alike. Kids and pets don their best costumes and compete for prizes. And families fill the streets to enjoy live entertainment and games ranging from candy trail and zombie throw to pumpkin bowling. All the games are presented by downtown businesses.

Boos, Brews & Brats is the catchy title of Manistee’s Halloween festivities. The DDA keeps kids busy with movies, pumpkin painting and costume contests, and the ever-popular trick-or-treating. Adults can join in the fun, too, with a Zombie 5K Run, pie eating contest, and even a .5K Zombie Pub Crawl.

Franklin---Franklinstein2014-blogFranklin’s Franklinstein Frenzy puts a “scary” twist on their all-day event, framed by spooktacular merchant savings. Activity maps available at Farmhouse Coffee and Ice Cream fill residents and visitors in on the Frenzy’s lineup – everything from a parade, trick-or-treating, games and activities and even pony rides. The event wraps up with the hilarity of a pumpkin roll on Franklin Sledding Hill.

Fenton adds an artistic element to the city’s Halloween celebration. The day kicks off with a costume parade through downtown. Participants can then warm-up and fill-up with goodies at a party, where they can also stroll through the Halloween Art Show. The show gives local children a chance to show off their artistic talents. Attendees vote for the winning artist in each age group, and winners head home with cash prizes donated by a local business.

Holly---Halloween-Cruise-spooky-car-blogAlong with traditional Halloween activities, Holly gets antique cars into the act. The DDA hosts a Halloween Cruise to Downtown Holly with costume contests, music, 50/50 drawings … and cars. The Best Spooky Car drives off with a prize. And everyone is encouraged to come early to explore downtown’s unique shops and boutiques and eat at one of Holly’s awesome restaurants.

In downtown St. Sault Marie, a charity benefits from some of their Halloween fun. Everyone looks forward to the trick-or-treating, hayrides, children’s carnival, costume contest and the Soo Theater Haunted House. But there is also a way to give back to the community with the Zombie Walk for Autism.

Marquette---Halloween-Spectacle-2-blogMarquette’s Halloween Spectacle is aptly named. As darkness descends on the city, costumed revelers join processions from many city locations and converge on downtown’s Marquette Commons for a large-scale outdoor community performance. This year, with the theme Spirits of the Lake, the audience will be treated to ghost puppets, dancing, musical performances, zombies from the deep, and much more. A spooky time will be had by all.

Get Your Special Event On

For more ideas on how special events can draw people to your community – at Halloween or any other time of the year – check out the Special Events chapter in the League’s new book, “The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.”  Details and ordering information are available here.

Grand-River-Marketplace-bannerOver snacks and drinks, our group of five had been immersed in a lively conversation about the benefits of living downtown. As we left Grand River Marketplace, Leslie Youngdahl chimed in with a laugh, “I’m going to walk home now.” Youndahl, the only 20-something among us, was just a few short blocks away from her downtown Jackson apartment. She knew the rest of us would have to climb into our cars and burn up some expensive gasoline to get home.

An hour earlier, we had all attended a public forum on Jackson’s new Anchor Initiative, a placemaking program designed to revitalize the city’s historic downtown and attract millennial talent. The forum was presented by Allan Hooper, state director for community economic development at Consumers Energy, and Hendrik Schuur, treasury director for Allegiance Health. Along with Youngdahl, Consumers’ community development program manager, they represented Jackson’s two largest anchor institutions.

Anchor-Initiative-300x200In January, Consumers and Allegiance joined forces to get the Anchor Initiative off the ground. The program’s three-pronged approach stresses the value of living, investing and innovating locally. It also emphasizes the important role that private sector anchor institutions can play in developing the physical, social and economic conditions that can help the city thrive.

To solidify the initiative, Consumers and Allegiance are recruiting other local businesses to join in the effort by committing to these actions:

  • Invest in an independent 501c3 organization focused on developing and implementing anchor strategies.
  • Consider a rental incentive to encourage employees to live downtown – $100/month for up to two years.
  • Participate in aggregating needs for hotel space and extended stay apartments to create the scale needed to stimulate a viable mixed-use development.
  • Consider implementing year-round co-op style internships to support a downtown rental market.
  • Participate in aggregating purchasing to support a buy local initiative that creates a more robust supply base.
  • Be active in engaging their millennial generation workers in a Jackson young professionals organization.

To date, about 13 local businesses have expressed support for the program, including Alro Steel, Dawn Food Products, Eaton Corporation, and TAC Manufacturing.

Mechanic-St-3-womenThe Anchor Initiative’s first prong – live locally – is designed to attract more millennials to live in downtown Jackson. Their presence would provide local businesses with the talented young workforce they need as well as encourage the development of more market-rate rental housing downtown.

“We like the convenience factor of being able to walk or ride a bike to work. We like to be near restaurants because we don’t cook much – we’re always on the go. And there are things going on downtown that we want to be involved with and make an impact,” said Youngdahl, referring to her fellow millennials, many of whom belong to the new Jackson Young Professionals group.

This aspect of the initiative is modeled after Live Midtown, a live-where-you-work rent incentive program in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood. Participating Jackson companies will offer their employees a rent incentive to live downtown, probably about $100 per month for a period of about two years. “We’re confident that there’s a tipping point,” said Hooper. “Once people start living downtown, they’ll keep living there.”

Consumers and Allegiance anticipate beginning the rent incentives this Fall. Other companies are expected to start offering them early next year.

The second prong of the initiative – invest locally – is designed to boost Jackson’s economy and tackle the high commercial vacancy rate downtown. Efforts will be made to promote investing and buying local, encourage increased local purchasing by anchors, and entice anchors’ vendors to invest in a downtown location.

The third prong – innovate locally – involves capitalizing on the needs of Jackson’s anchor institutions. An emphasis on their specialties, purchasing power, and skill and technology needs can offer opportunities for entrepreneurship.

The Anchor Initiative recently announced that Hooper has been selected as the organization’s first executive director. He will be retiring from Consumers Energy to assume this new position.