Evart DDA works to revitalize downtown

Small Business Saturday campaign begins

The Evart DDA discussed plans for the revitalization of the downtown area during its virtual meeting Oct. 13. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

The Evart DDA discussed plans for the revitalization of the downtown area during its virtual meeting Oct. 13. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

EVART - The Evart Downtown Development Authority continues to look at ways to revitalize the downtown area.

In his report to the DDA board, director Eric Kehoe said he was looking into the possibility of applying for planning services through the Michigan State University Sustainable Built Environment Initiative.

"That is going to touch on a lot of different aspects of what we are trying to do, taking the Michigan Main Street initiative and expanding it further," Kehoe said.

The Sustainable Built Environment Initiative began as a pilot in 2013 as a means of assisting communities to address physical planning, design and land use issues.

It offers recommendations to guide improvements in communities with a sustainability theme and provides a source for physical sustainable design assistance in community development and land use.

Through the program the MSU Extension and the School of Planning, Design and Construction work with communities to develop sustainable planning and design ideas for local issues and opportunities; to build consensus and generate ideas to address challenging sustainability concerns; to act as a bridge between communities and consulting planning and design professionals.

Kehoe said as part of the program, they will be looking at specific lots in the downtown area and looking at connectivity between North and South Main Street.

"One of the things I would like help with is getting letters of recommendation from community stakeholders that would be interested in seeing development on Main Street," Kehoe said. "We want to get letters from business owners that are already actively involved on Main Street, as well as the people who patronize those businesses, to get a widely diverse group.

"If we get the application in this month and are accepted, the process would start in January and go through the fall of 2021," he added. "Program officials have said they have worked with organizations that were not funded when they applied, but got the funding over time, so I think they will be flexible with that."

The DDA is currently looking at possible grants to help fund the revitalization of the downtown area.

Kehoe said he has reached out to a couple of banks regarding possible funding and suggested that the National Trust for Historic Preservation may be a possible grant source.

"Even though they are not technically in a historic district, because the buildings are older and it is an older main street, it is something they may be interested in," Kehoe said.

In addition, he said, the American Association of Retired Persons has a program that offers grants related to walkability and place making that they could be a possible source of funding.

DDA president Alan Bengry said the Osceola County Community Foundation may be a possible source of grant funding.

"The Spring grant round is due by Feb. 1, but they don't typically fund projects that have already started," Bengry said. "It is something we can check into."

In other business, the DDA approved using $300 to fund a digital campaign to promote Small Business Saturday, which takes place on Nov. 28.

Small Business Saturday is a campaign to encourage shoppers to shop local and support small business owners in their communities.

"The plan right now is to have a mailer sent out to 10,000 homes within a 20-mile radius of Evart," Kehoe said. "The DDA can supplement advertising through a digital campaign in Google Ads where anytime someone uses Google, images and ads would pop up.

"The purpose of that would be that you don't want to just hit them once, you want to keep it in their heads," he continued. "I think it would be worthwhile to do that in conjunction with the mailer. You can see the feedback you are getting and how many people are clicking on the ad."

Kehoe also reported that the Michigan Main Street initiative is in the final stretch. It will include implementation of bike racks in the downtown area, way finding signage through out the city, and creating walkability throughout downtown.

In addition, he said, he is meeting with property owners regarding the Redevelopment Ready Community initiative encouraging them to take the next steps in renovating their buildings.

"I am reaching out to area contractors," Kehoe said. "We want to have resources ready if anyone wants to take the next step. We want to have architects and contractors available to step in and assist."

The DDA continues to look at other business opportunities for the downtown area, including a possible laundromat.

Bengry said there is a definite need for that in the community but questioned if downtown was the proper place for it.

"It is definitely a need for this community, regardless of where it is placed," Bengry said. "It is really an issue for some of our folks, and a lot of them have transportation issues, as well, and when the nearest laundromat is 20 miles away, that makes it extremely difficult.

"I think if it becomes a gathering place for people downtown, I don't think that is a bad thing," he continued. "It depends on how late it is opened."

Kehoe added, "Anytime you are getting more foot traffic on Main Street, that is a good thing. Just thinking if it is opened at night, they would need to make sure it is well lit."

The DDA will continue to investigate possible locations for a laundromat and if there is anyone interested in investing in that business.