Placemaking images from Marquette - the site of the League's 2014 Convention.

Placemaking images from Marquette – the site of the League’s 2014 Convention.

Each year, the Michigan Municipal League Board president gives a welcome speech to kick-off our Convention. League President Jacqueline Noonan, Utica mayor, put her own unique spin on this year’s talk that took place Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 15, 2014) at our Convention in Marquette.

Instead of just talking about things happening with the League, Noonan told about some of the positive placemaking work being done in League member communities. To assist her, we put out a call for examples and our members responded in droves.

We got so many responses that we couldn’t begin to fit them all in her speech. Instead, we decided to put them in this blog. Here are some projects shared with us:

Auburn Hills – Four new developments have opened in the city’s downtown in the past year, including The DEN (Downtown Education Nook) built from the log cabin, a historic landmark in downtown Auburn Hills; the University Center; Auburn Square apartments and retail building; and a new 233-space parking structure.

Battle Creek – The city will be drying its “poop”! Yup, you heard right. Nearly all communities deal with the challenge of solid waste disposal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one doing what Battle Creek is doing. They are the first municipality in the country to try the PulverDryer process. Plus, the community wrapped up its downtown infrastructure transformation a couple of years ago and construction is now underway on the city’s new farmers market/festival area with a planned completion date of May, 2015.

Berkley's new mobile app.

Berkley’s new mobile app.

Berkley – This past spring, the City of Berkley was among the first Michigan communities to launch a free mobile app for its residents. “Access Berkley” enables residents to interact with the city, request and track work orders, easily find information, and more. The community also has partnered with the Michigan Municipal League to complete a placemaking study for a signature area in its blossoming downtown.

Bessemer – The City of Bessemer recently completed its downtown Ethnic Commons Park depicting the community’s cultural heritage. The project was made possible through a state grant and strong local support.

Blissfield – The community recently opened its new Village Office and Police Station. This is a project long in the making, and it is smack in the middle of downtown, revitalizing a former bank building.

Bronson – The city was able to take advantage of MDOT’s technical assistance program to receive a walkability review of the community. Since that time, the city has acquired a former rail line and plans to create a nearly mile-long walking and recreational path/parkway.

Clare – Cops and Doughnuts located in downtown Clare is a past winner of the League’s Community Excellence Award. The business has experienced tremendous growth in recent years and is helping inspire a revitalization of the entire downtown. The business has experienced record sales this year, bringing in more than 250,000 visitors to the city. The downtown now has zero vacant store fronts, including a recent announcement of the first tenant going into a previously vacant professional building downtown. Other new businesses in town include a new retail shop, restaurant and pub serving only Michigan brews and wines, a coin shop, music store, coffee shop, barber shop, and by December the city’s first brew pub (Four Leaf Brewing). The city also has acquired and moved a historic railroad depot into downtown to house the chamber and visitors’ bureau, arts council, museum and to serve as the trail head for Pere Marquette Rail-Trail.

Davison – The city recently completed its M-15 Recreational Heritage Route bike trail.

The newly renovated Ann Street Plaza in East Lansing.

The newly renovated Ann Street Plaza in East Lansing.

East Lansing – The city recently completed a two-year project to redevelop Ann Street Plaza in its core downtown, including a complete redesign and reconstruction of the plaza to remove vehicle parking, and add benches, landscaping, outdoor fireplace and a performance stage. The project was driven by the adjacent redevelopment of two properties into eight-story and five-story mixed use buildings with upscale apartments and first floor restaurants with outdoor seating overlooking the new plaza. Total investment in the two projects and plaza exceeded $13 million.

Elk Rapids – After purchasing a foreclosed riverfront vacant industrial building, the Village of Elk Rapids cleared the property, opening up a beautiful bay and harbor view from US-31. The new green space has hosted summer folk concerts; a Bourbon, Beer and Bluegrass Festival; and has added more than 20 new boat slips to the upper harbor of Elk Rapids’ award winning harbor enterprise.

Flint – The city created a new health and wellness district downtown in buildings once owned and occupied by The Flint Journal. The city’s farmers market relocated into the former Flint Journal press building and Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine public health program is moving into the Journal’s former office building. The total investment in new buildings, infrastructure and programs is over $80 million and more than 150 new jobs will be on site. The farmers market alone supports over 100 small businesses and is seeing up to 10,000 customers on summer Saturdays.

Fraser – The city is currently finishing the first phase of a boundless park, designed for all children regardless of physical or mental challenges. They received a $300,000 grant from MDNR and expect to finish the first phase – the infrastructure improvements, ADA restrooms and a pavilion – before winter hits. They also just completed a joint bid with the City of Roseville for a new radio read meter system, called Automated Meter Infrastructure. This joint project and bid resulted in estimated savings of more than $300,000 to both communities.

The League's new book has dozens of placemaking success stories from throughout Michigan.

The League’s new book has dozens of placemaking success stories from throughout Michigan.

Grand Haven – The city received an MEDC Downtown Infrastructure Grant to connect a major state highway to its downtown and waterfront. The project involved reconstructing two city blocks to create an attractive entryway to the downtown area from the very busy north/south corridor. Interest in private investment is spiking and the city can hardly keep up with new site plans and building inspections.

Grand Rapids – The City of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation partnered with Lofts on Monroe, LLC to support a $2 million private investment in a placemaking project to remodel the historic downtown building for a mixed-use retail, office and residential project located adjacent to the city-owned Memorial Park.

Hastings – After years of effort, the community finally got a hotel that can now be used to attract visitors and host large and small events, such as conferences, weddings and family reunions. The project involved multiple parties and agreements and culminated with the opening of a Holiday Inn Express last winter. The much-needed and sought-after hotel would not have been built if it were not for the gap financing provided by the Barry Community Foundation, through a Program Related Investment (PRI) Revolving Loan Fund (established by local philanthropists) and the Progressive  Intergovernmental Agreements between Rutland Township and the City Hastings to provide Urban Level Services to the site.

Howell – The city recently saw the completion of the Heart of Howell (www.heartofhowell.com) project that rehabilitated three historic buildings downtown. The project involved taking three adjacent historic buildings, formally known as the Swanns, Thistledown, and Spag’s buildings, and turning them into a beautiful multi-use complex.

Ironwood – The League’s 2014 Community Excellence Award Winner is experiencing a tremendous resurgence in its downtown, including a new Italian restaurant, a photo studio, a high-end resale clothing store and possibly a micro-brewery. These are all spinoff businesses resulting from the energy and vibrancy generated from a Downtown Blueprint plan created about five years ago. The Downtown Blueprint, was developed in partnership with the city, DDA, and Michigan State Housing Development Authority and led to the establishment of a new art center area downtown.

Mason – The city recently completed construction of a multi-purpose stage in Rayner Park. This stage was constructed to highlight concerts, community theatre, and the Orchestral Society, and has the ability to have movies projected onto the doors. This $50,000 project was completed with volunteer labor, donated funds, and not one dollar of taxpayer money. Also, after five years of posturing, negotiating, and coordinating, restoration work has started on the oldest building in downtown Mason.

An article about Milan's MuniRent cooperative program.

An article about Milan’s MuniRent cooperative program.

Milan – The city has experienced great success working with other local governments to create win-win programs, such as a joint fueling agreement, a sewer treatment agreement and an effort called “MuniRent,” which allows participating entities to quickly and easily rent equipment from nearby municipalities. The city is also on the verge of a downtown redevelopment which has been four years in the making. In addition, the city and community organizations are embarking on a crowdfunding effort to build a pavilion and make other improvements to a centralized park.

Negaunee – The city just completed a $4.3 million dollar wastewater project that allowed three communities to share in the operation of one wastewater treatment facility. More importantly, during the construction of this multi-year project, the City of Ishpeming was able to complete four other projects (with better than anticipated outcomes) due to the enthusiastic cooperation of engineers, MDEQ, contractors, city staff and councils.

Plymouth – The city hosts over 180 events annually as part of its efforts to create a sense of place. Events range from Plymouth’s largest event – Art in the Park, to Yoga in the Park, parades, five different running races, and the annual Rotary Chicken Dinner, serving 11,000 dinners on a Sunday afternoon. All of the events are managed privately and pay the city’s expenses for services provided during the events.

Port Huron – The city boasts several projects resulting from creative partnerships that aim to enhance the downtown area and improve public access to the community’s waterfronts. These projects, including the Blue Water River Walk, Downtown Kayak Launch, and Downtown Lofts, have provided increased recreational opportunities, residential amenities and unique gathering spots for all age groups.

Sault Ste. Marie – The city signed a memorandum of understanding with its sister-city, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada that calls for closer collaboration between the two entities in fostering international economic growth and prosperity initiatives.

Sterling Heights – The city saw the construction of a new state-of-the-art Chrysler 200 assembly facility valued at over $1 billion. It was one of the largest construction projects in southeastern Michigan over the past year and over 1,000 new employees have been added. The plant was destined for closure in bankruptcy, but through a collaborative effort, in which the League was involved, it was saved and is now thriving. It is the only example in the country of a facility being bought out of bankruptcy and reopened. This is a great example of collaboration. And as city manager Mark Vanderpool says, “It is hard to implement placemaking without economic vitality. They go hand in hand.” Sterling Heights also completed a kayak/canoe landing on the Clinton River. The city has seven miles of bike/hike trails and most of the system is along the Clinton River.

A rendering of the new ballpark in Utica.

A rendering of the new ballpark in Utica.

Utica – The city and Macomb County over the summer announced plans to construct a 2,500-seat minor league baseball park that will be home to a newly formed local baseball league as early as next year. Utica Mayor Noonan called the project a “game-changer” for the tiny, 197-year-old city, with Utica attracting families, shoppers and more tax dollars, while parcels that have remained empty for many years will be put to use.

The Michigan’s Municipal League’s new book, The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities, is being officially unveiled at this week’s Convention in Marquette. (View photos from our Convention here.) The book is full of dozens of more placemaking stories. Learn more at economicsofplace.com and you can order the book by clicking here.

Matt Bach is the League’s director of media relations. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and (734) 669-6317.

 

View these photos showing scenes from farmers markets from throughout Michigan. Check out hundreds of additional photos in this collection on flickr by the Michigan Municipal League.

The 300-plus farmers markets that exist in Michigan come in all shapes and sizes. They’re in large urban centers and tiny villages. They pop up in parking lots, fields, roadsides, on Main Street and in permanent, historic structures.

A girl is excited about getting her face painted at the Sunday Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

A girl is excited about getting her face painted at the Sunday Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

They sell traditional farmers market fare – corn, apples, maple syrup, potatoes, and pumpkins – and the unexpected – homemade spices, baby clothes, fresh-caught fish, jewelry, and even sea urchin. You can get your knives sharpened, your face painted and your groceries for the week. At a farmers market you can find old friends and meet new ones. And you can talk to the vendor who grew the melon or flowers you’re thinking about buying.

Farmers markets can even help create a place for people to gather and revitalize a community and give an economic boost to existing businesses and inspire new merchants to open.

In writing a how-to case study about Michigan Farmers Market for the Michigan Municipal League, I got the chance this summer to visit more than 30 markets across our great state. I saw thousands of people pack into the new location for the Flint Farmers Market to great fanfare for its grand opening in downtown on June 21. I smelled the yummy salsa dish a woman was preparing for her church fundraiser at the Dansville Farmers Market. I saw a man holding a rooster in Birmingham, a robotics team in Grand Blanc, a violinist performing in East Lansing, a flutist in Traverse City, and Spanish mackerel on sale at the new Downtown Market in Grand Rapids.

I’ve always enjoyed going to farmers markets but the sights and sounds I experienced in my market tour this summer were truly inspirational, exciting and simply fun. While I saw many successful markets, I did experience some that seemed to need a shot in the arm. I also attempted to go to a couple markets that I eventually learned are no longer in operation.

So what makes one market flourish as another withers on the vine?

Farmers Joe and Mary Cooley enjoy talking with customers at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on Island Park.

Farmers Joe and Mary Cooley enjoy talking with customers at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on Island Park.

The success or failure of a market can come down to three words: Relationships, relationships, relationships, said Dru Montri, director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association, an East Lansing-based non-profit organization that tracks and provides support to farmers markets throughout the state. Montri said the 320 farmers markets in their data base this year is a record high since the association formed and starting tracking farmers markets in 2006. While some close each year many more open.

“Farmers markets are based on relationships,” Montri explained. “That’s the best thing about markets, and it can also be the most challenging aspect of markets. It’s relationships between farmers themselves, relationships between vendors and the market management, relationships between the market manager and sponsors and relationships between vendors and shoppers. All of those are very, very important. People love farmers markets because of that. People love going and talking to vendors about how things are grown.”

But Montri said when relationships sour that can impact everything in a market. A successful market will have strong leaders who can forge good relationships on all levels. She suggests a market have a board of directors or advisory team to oversee it.

Montri said the number of farmers markets in Michigan have doubled since 2006 for several reasons. Those reasons include an increase in consumer interest about where and how their food is made and processed; a growing awareness among community leaders about the value a farmers market can have in economic development and creating a sense of place and community in their town; and a desire by farmers and vendors in direct marketing options, which tend to be more profitable.

She believes the number of markets will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, especially as more markets start to offer financial assistance programs to those in need, such as the acceptance of SNAP Bridge Cards and related services.

“There is such a large number of consumers who haven’t even yet considered shopping at farmers markets,” Montri said. “As long as we have the potential to bring more people into farmers markets, we have the opportunity to expand the number of markets. As long as we are strategic about growth, we can avoid these saturation points. But, starting a market a mile away from an existing market on the same day of the week, for example, can cause over saturation.”

View hundreds of photos from Michigan farmers markets on the League's flickr page, flickr.com/michigancommunities

View hundreds of photos from Michigan farmers markets on the League’s flickr page, flickr.com/michigancommunities

You can view slide shows of all the markets I visited here in this collection on the League’s flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michigancommunities/collections/72157647210449456/.

There are photos of markets from these communities and locations: Royal Oak, Howell, Old Town Lansing, Flint, Downtown Lansing, Grand Blanc, Farmers Market at the CapitolTraverse City, Canton, Harbor Springs, Detroit Eastern Market, Saginaw, Midland, Frankenmuth, Port Huron, Williamson, Grand Rapids YMCA, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Birmingham, Grand Rapids Aquinas College Metro Health, East Lansing, Mt. Clemens, Mt. Pleasant, Dansville, Fenton, Bay City, Grand Rapids Fulton Street, Port Austin, Grand Rapids downtown, Walled Lake, Wayne State University, Islandview Market in Detroit, Lathrup Village, Farmington, Brighton and Linden.

Check out a video of Montri discussing the value of farmers markets here: http://placemaking.mml.org/michigan-farmers-markets/

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at (734) 669-6317 and mbach@mml.org. 

Watch the award-winning video.

The Michigan Municipal League’s animated Partnership for Place video shown at the start of 2014 Capital Conference received the highest award possible in the national 2014 Videographer Awards competition run by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

There were 1,500 entries from throughout the United States and the League’s video was among the top 12 percent to receive the highest honor – “award of excellence.” The League was the only award of excellence winner from Michigan. View the complete list of award of excellence winners here: https://enter.videoawards.com/winners/excellence/.

In addition to the recognition, the League will receive a movie-style clapboard as a trophy.

The League’s Partnership for Place: An Agenda for a Competitive 21st Century Michigan is a proactive policy agenda that proposes a commitment of action in partnership between the state and its municipalities. The goal of this effort is that these policies will facilitate Michigan’s economic growth and allow for the development of places to provide key services and amenities that contribute to a high quality of life.

The Partnership for Place focuses on a more regional approach to service delivery, which would change the way services are provided, how resources are dedicated, and how systems are supported. Approved by the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees in June of 2013, this policy agenda proposes actions that will re-establish a partnership for prosperity in four key areas: Funding for the future; Michigan in motion; Place for talent; and Strength in structure. Read more about the agenda here.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and (734) 669-6317.

Enjoy this slide show illustrating the St. Joseph Public Art project through the years.

Susan Solon beams with pride as she thumbs through a family photo album on her desk at St. Joseph City Hall. And it’s not even her family.

It’s a photo album that the Belz family of Kalamazoo gave Solon, St. Joseph’s director of communications and marketing, illustrating their repeated visits to St. Joseph to see relatives and the city’s Annual Public Art. It’s really a 52-page visual thank you note to Solon and the city for contributing to their many summer memories.

“Isn’t that great,” Solon says of the album. “It shows how much people and families enjoy the public art year after year.”

The St. Joseph Public Art project began in 2004 as a way to bring visitors to the Lake Michigan shore community, but as the photo album shows the project has really done much more than that. The public art program is one of many “How-To” studies done by the Michigan Municipal League. The how-to study and a related video can be viewed here. All the League studies, which can be viewed here, focus on outstanding placemaking initiatives and programs being done in communities throughout Michigan. The St. Joseph program is an excellent example of cultural economic development – one of the eight placemaking assets identified by the League.

The Belz family photo album starts out in 2007 (Hot Cars Cool Beaches was the theme that year) when the youngest child in the family of four girls is about six months old, said Cindy Belz, who took most of the photos of her daughters along with her husband Eric. The album then shows the girls (Mackenzie; 16; twins Sierra and Kaleigh, 13; and Taylor, 7) growing up and smiling gleefully next to the various art pieces in subsequent years through 2012 the year of the “Beached Pirates.” They’re shown playing with farm animals in 2011’s “Barnyard at the Beach”; petting dogs in 2010’s “Hot Diggity Dogs”; sailing away in various aquatic vessels during 2008’s Boats-n-Beaches theme; and adventuring with wild beasts in 2009’s “Surf ‘n Safari”.

Cindy Belz said she made the photo album as a gift for her parents, St. Joseph residents Mike and Marci Kastner and her father showed it to Solon at City Hall, who then requested a copy of the album after being so impressed by it.

“St. Joseph is just a great town,” said Cindy Belz, whose family lives outside of Kalamazoo. “I tell everybody I know about St. Joseph and the public art. It’s a great day trip for your family to go down there and look at the art – take in the fountain, the carousel, the whole atmosphere down there. You can easily make a full day out of it for your family. Plus, it’s inexpensive for a family to do. To look at art on the street doesn’t cost anything. But of course we always get ice cream and do some shopping.”

In addition to providing memories, the St. Joseph Public Art has accomplished the main things it was intended to do when city leaders embarked upon it more than a decade ago:

  • Eliminate the 33 percent vacancy rate among downtown storefronts;
  • Capitalize on the artistic talent that exists in the community;
  • And turn St. Joseph into a tourist destination for visitors and second-home buyers.

“When I first started here six years ago it was hard for our business to get through the winter and now we have steady cash flow all year long,” said Christopher Heugel, manager of The Boulevard Inn in downtown St. Joseph and a member of the St. Joseph City Commission. “Plus, the demand has grown during the summer.”

In addition, the art project has served as a catalyst to other related economic development efforts, including a downtown beautification movement, numerous festivals taking place year-round; and eventually the future development of the Silver Lake Beach, which now includes the Silver Beach Carousel, Silver Beach Amusement Park, Shadowland on Silver Beach ballroom; Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone and the Whirlpool Compass Fountain.

This year’s art project is extra special because it is directly tied to the restoration effort of St. Joseph’s two historic lighthouses located within eyesight of the downtown district. The 2014 theme is “Shining Sculptures – Lighting Up St. Joseph!, and consists of 30 lighthouse art pieces on display in and around the St. Joseph area from now until Sept. 26. Following the summer-long public display, the pieces will go up for sale in a public auction taking place Sept. 27. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the $2-million lighthouse restoration effort, Solon said.

“The Public Art project started out because we had a 33 percent vacancy rate in the winter here in our downtown when I started working for the city 16 years ago,” Solon said. “So we developed this to bring vibrancy to our downtown and over the years it’s really brought foot traffic, people love it. We are really becoming known as THE public art destination in the state of Michigan. Our occupancy is 100 percent occupancy now, so we’re very excited.”

Go here to view the case study and related video about the St. Joseph project. View dozens of photos from the art projects over the years in this Michigan Municipal League photo album on flickr.