Representatives of the seven regional CEA communities are (from left) Gladstone Mayor Pro Tem Hugo Mattonen; Fenton Mayor Sue Osborn; Ithaca Councilmember L.D. Hollenbeck; Grandville Mayor Pro Tem Josh Meringa; East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett; Cadillac Mayor Carla Filkins; and Harbor Beach Mayor Gary Booms.

Representatives of the seven regional CEA communities are (from left) Gladstone Mayor Pro Tem Hugo Mattonen; Fenton Mayor Sue Osborn; Ithaca Councilmember L.D. Hollenbeck; Grandville Mayor Pro Tem Josh Meringa; East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett; Cadillac Mayor Carla Filkins; and Harbor Beach Mayor Gary Booms.

Placemaking can come in many different forms. It can be in the form of an after-school ski hill program, like the one in Gladstone in the Upper Peninsula. It can also be turning vacant old fire house into a vibrant restaurant in Fenton; or a flower beautification effort in Ithaca; or sharing services in the Lansing area; or revitalizing Grandville’s downtown; or starting a free bicycle rental program in Cadillac; and even doing self-performed dredging in Harbor Beach.

These projects are the seven regional finalists in the 2014 Michigan Municipal League Community Excellence Awards (CEA). They were selected during the Michigan Municipal League’s 2014 Capital Conference March 18, 2014. The League’s annual Community Excellence Award program showcases innovative solutions, programs or projects that have had a positive impact on their community, and can be replicated in other communities with similar challenges. The winner from each region will now go on to compete for the statewide CEA title during the League’s annual convention taking place Oct. 14-17 in Marquette. Every year, the League’s peer-nominated CEA competition recognizes transformational and problem-solving ideas to the many challenges facing communities. Increasingly, these local success stories are place-based projects and initiatives that are having a profound socioeconomic impact on communities in each of the state’s seven regions.

All of these CEA entries can also be described as placemaking success stories. Here is a closer look at the seven finalists shared at this year’s CEA presentations.

Region 1: Fenton Fire Hall:
The city of Fenton had a historic fire hall in the heart of its downtown that was no longer in use and had stood vacant for 10 years. The city of Fenton and Downtown Development Authority established a partnership with a nationally recognized restaurant group, called Union Joints, which focuses on converting historic buildings into eating establishments. The Fenton Fire Hall restaurant is now an extremely popular and successful destination point for people from miles around the Fenton area. Region 1 includes all communities in the southeastern portion of the state’s Lower Peninsula. View a full press release and photos.

Region 2: Metro Connection–Greater Lansing Shared Services Fire Initiative: Six Lansing-area jurisdictions participated in a shared public services study that has led to unprecedented trust building, costs savings and efficiencies between the fire departments from the cities of Lansing and East Lansing and townships of Meridian, Lansing, Delta and Delhi. Region 2 includes all communities in the south-central and southwestern portions of the Lower Peninsula. View a full press release and photos.

Region 3: Grandville’s downtown streetscape project: A vibrant downtown and a sense of place are crucial to a community’s identity and health. Grandville is one of the few Grand Rapids inner-ring suburbs that still has a traditional downtown, but its downtown was becoming more aged and losing many of its key attributes. A recent streetscape project created a more pedestrian-friendly downtown by improving parking, walkability and revitalizing the downtown core. Work included giving Chicago Drive, a former state trunkline, a road diet by narrowing it down from four to two lanes with a center turn lane, adding on-street parking, benches, banners, flower pots and brick pavers, as well as burying power lines under the street. Since the completion of the work, several new businesses have opened in the area, including Grandville’s first microbrewery, and new downtown community events have successfully started and drawn more people to the city. Region 3 includes all communities in the west-central area of the state’s Lower Peninsula. View a full press release and photos.

Region 4: Ithaca’s flower beautification community project: The city of Ithaca has a 12-inch strip of land lining its main street coming into the downtown area. Each year the community gets together to plant flowers along this area as a way to welcome visitors and residents. The project also brings the community together because everyone pitches in on the planting, including students from area schools, flower organizations, nonprofit service groups and many others. Region 4 includes all communities in the east-central part of the state’s Lower Peninsula, excluding the Thumb. View a full press release and photos.

Region 5: The city of Harbor Beach’s self-performed dredging project:  With water levels on the Great Lakes being so low last summer, many communities like Harbor Beach had to do emergency dredging in order to accommodate boats in its municipal marina. The city owns and operates a 114-slip marina on Lake Huron in the thumb of Michigan. Harbor Beach received grant funding assistance from the Department of Natural Resources-Waterways to do the dredging. The city administered the dredging project using its own equipment and personnel. Region 5 includes all communities in the Thumb. View a full press release and photos.

Region 6: Cadillac’s bicycle rental project called Bike Cadillac!: The city of Cadillac has put to use the many abandoned and unclaimed bicycles the police department has collected over the past several years. The city takes these bikes, has them refurbished if needed, places decals on them, provides locks, and then rents them for free to visitors and residents in the Cadillac area. People use the bikes on city trails, paths, and roads to travel around Lake Cadillac, visit Mitchell State Park and the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Museum, and/or travel to downtown Cadillac. The exciting and innovative program started in 2013 through a partnership with Mitchell State Park, which is the location of the bike station. The program was a very popular and successful endeavor and plans are now underway to expand it. Region 6 includes all communities in the northern portion of the lower peninsula. View a full press release and photos.

Region 7: Gladstone After School Ski Hill Program: The Upper Peninsula city of Gladstone is known as the “year-round playground” which conveys the great quality of life and sense of place enjoyed by our residents and visitors. Up to 70 kids a day attend the city’s after-school ski hill program. Students from Gladstone and surrounding schools can ride a bus three days a week to the city’s ski hill where they receive a healthy snack and homework assistance. At 4 pm they can tube, snowboard or ski. Equipment is provided as needed and lessons provided by the hill’s student/city employees. This program addresses latch-key issues, educational support, healthy eating and exercise, personal growth in skills and self-confidence, as well as employment and job skills for high school students. It makes a life-long hobby affordable and is a collaboration with area schools. Region 7 includes all communities in the Upper Peninsula. The other communities that competed for the Region 7 CEA nomination were Ironwood and St. Ignace. View a full press release and photos.

The CEA program, affectionately called “The Race for the Cup,” was started by the League in 2007 to recognize innovative solutions taking place in Michigan’s cities, villages and urban townships.

View photos of the League’s 2014 Capital Conference, which focused on the League’s Partnership for Place policy agenda. View media coverage from the conference.

Fostering a culture of entrepreneurship is one of the League’s eight assets that Michigan communities need to grow and strengthen, for our state to sustain and prosper in the 21st century. Nothing promotes that culture as much as this new crowdfunding opportunity. This new community investment tool is a natural extension of placemaking and we intend to promote this in the next several months through training and educational materials.

First off, let’s make a clear distinction between this law and the crowdfunding initiatives you may have already heard of. This new law allows for “investment” crowdfunding, where a Michigan business can solicit funds from Michigan residents directly or through an online platform to help spur their business in exchange for an actual return on investment. This ROI is what makes this different from other initiatives you’ve heard of like, Kickstarter. Those are “reward based” crowdfunding initiatives, where people donate to a cause or product because they believe in it. Perhaps they get a T-shirt out of the deal, but there is no actual investing. That’s what this legislation allows for – being able to use this as an investment tool. And, it’s what makes this opportunity so appealing.

Thanks for Investing LocalCrowdfunding fosters entrepreneurship and economic development. It’s a way for residents to support local businesses and invest on Main Street rather than Wall Street. And, we believe it’s a game changing opportunity for Michigan communities. Creating and sustaining vibrant communities requires unique places with local flavor–and those types of businesses can seem risky to traditional financiers. This can now fill a void in traditional financing where a business start-up might not qualify for the funding they need for various reasons, including additional hurdles because of their desire to rehab an old historic structure or a lack of enough start-up capital. The economic impact of citizens being able to put their resources into helping develop their community–and get something out of it in return-could be magnificent.

This new law benefits residents, small businesses, and communities alike. The new law in Michigan is the most favorable in the entire country, and an excellent conduit to support additional place based initiatives.

This initiative has very exciting potential and the League is in the process of developing a Michigan-based website where start-ups, community leaders, and investors can go and learn about crowdfunding in Michigan, as well as start the process through a couple of partnerships we’ve developed with Localstake and Fundrise. These national companies have proven track records helping spur the development of businesses and real estate. We are also in the process of developing a public space crowdfunding initiative, that we hope to be able to announce soon.

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan discusses the League's Partnership for Place initiative.

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan discusses the League’s Partnership for Place initiative.

When it comes to the value of placemaking and how it ties to municipal financing in Michigan, Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan doesn’t mince words: “The state’s current system of funding our communities is broken and change is essential to returning Michigan to prosperity.”

I had the opportunity to talk with Noonan, the 2013-14 president of the Michigan Municipal League, prior to a recent League board meeting and she talked about her desire for changes to the state’s municipal finance system and why the concept of placemaking is so important to Michigan’s future. Learn more about the value of placemaking at placemaking.mml.org and view the League’s Partnership for Place placemaking plan here.

Her comments come on the heels of a recently released report/survey on placemaking by the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. The survey shows that more local governments than ever before are utilizing placemaking as an economic development tool in their communities. The League has long promoted placemaking as an economic driver and Noonan was very encouraged by the survey results.

Q&A with Mayor Noonan, League board president:

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan does a media interview with Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio.

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan does a media interview with Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio.

Q: What is your reaction to the new UM study that shows more cities are using placemaking as an economic development strategy?
A: “I’m excited because in the long run it is an absolute verifiable fact that talent and companies tend to migrate to communities that offer high quality of life. Placemaking is a strategy to highlight a community’s assets. Those assets can make your community more attractive to high quality talent and companies.”

Q: What do you think these survey results could mean for Michigan?
A: “With the stance taken by federal government post 2008, the auto industry has come back like a lion. The service industry around the state is experiencing such an economic upturn and when you combine manufacturing and the service sector, Michigan is in the top quarter if not the top 20 states in recovery. The state government – Governor Snyder and legislators – need to realize that helping local government through placemaking will enhance our recovery exponentially.”

Q: Do you think there is a relation between turning Michigan around economically/adding jobs and placemaking?
A: “I do. One of the areas you would point to that is doing this well would be west Michigan, through their mass transit programs and just how they use the beauty of the area to their advantage, with their gorgeous coast line. They are a premiere example of how to do placemaking right. Traverse City is another one. County by county throughout our state I think we are on the cusp of a huge success story.”

Q: Do you think our state lawmakers see that relation between placemaking and Michigan’s economic recovery?
A: “No I do not. I’m afraid the business sector, state Legislature and the Governor have not identified with placemaking to the extent they need to. But we have a growing percentage of them that are beginning to see it so we must keep the dialogue going strongly.”

Michigan Municipal League President Jacqueline Noonan, Mayor of Utica.

Michigan Municipal League President Jacqueline Noonan, Mayor of Utica.

Q: How can we get the governor and lawmakers to understand the importance of placemaking?
A: “We have to share information like the UM study with them directly. We also need to make sure they get the league’s excellent printed materials, such as the book, The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People and the MIPlace materials. To borrow from what the governor says, we need to have Relentless Positive Contact with state officials about the importance of placemaking so no matter what direction they turn they are going to see it.”

Read the placemaking UM report here. Read the UM press release. Read the League’s Placemaking blog post on the study.

View a recent Michigan Municipal League Review magazine article about Noonan and how her community is using placemaking as part of its rebirth.

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

Brighton is one of many Michigan cities to embrace the placemaking concept.

Brighton is one of many Michigan cities to embrace the placemaking concept.

A new study released today (Jan. 22, 2014) by the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy shows that more local governments than ever before are utilizing placemaking as an economic development tool in their communities.

The Michigan Municipal League for several years has promoted placemaking as an economic driver and it’s extremely encouraging to see the concept taking hold and making a different in so many Michigan communities, said League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin.

“These survey results further prove that local government leaders not only increasingly talk the placemaking talk, but that they also walk the placemaking walk,” Gilmartin said.

Placemaking is a community and economic development strategy that attempts to capitalize on local assets to create appealing and unique places where people want to live, work, and play.

“In placemaking, communities use what they have whether it’s arts, cultural amenities, parks, architectural design, lakes or walkable streets to create a strong bond between people and the places they live,” said Tom Ivacko, administrator and program manager for the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP).

The poll, part of the Michigan Public Policy Survey series at CLOSUP, reports:

- 51 percent of Michigan’s local leaders say they believe placemaking can be effective
in their jurisdictions as of 2013, compared to 39 percent who reported confidence in
placemaking’s effectiveness in 2009.

- Even in jurisdictions that are not engaged in placemaking efforts, 35 percent of local leaders say it would be an effective strategy for their jurisdictions, and just 12 percent believe it would be ineffective.

- Local leaders see links between placemaking and entrepreneurship, but say they face barriers to attracting more entrepreneurs including access to capital (72 percent), unappealing buildings and landscape design (29 percent), deteriorating infrastructure (27 percent), lack of late night entertainment (26 percent) and information technology infrastructure (21 percent).

- Jurisdictions in Southeast Michigan (55 percent) were the most likely to pursue placemaking in 2013, followed by those in the Upper Peninsula (37 percent), the
Northern Lower Peninsula (33 percent), the Southwest and West Central Lower Peninsula (each at 29 percent), and the East Central Lower Peninsula (25 percent).

The League and other proponents of place-based economic development argue that by creating vibrant downtowns, neighborhoods, or public spaces, and improving a community’s quality of life, talented workers will be drawn to move there, and they will attract new businesses as well as start their own.

View the full report herehttp://closup.umich.edu/files/mpps-spring-2013-placemaking.pdf. View a press release about it here. And you can go to placemaking.mml.org for more on the placemaking concept and examples of placemaking in action throughout Michigan

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