Evart empty storefronts a growing concern

EVART — At Nick’s Barber Shop in downtown Evart, you can get a haircut for $10.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. customers visit the shop, which neighbors a vacant building. The building was once Evart’s post office, and has since housed various businesses and a church, but none for very long.

Now that building is one of 12 standing vacant on Main Street.

Although business has been steady for him, the vacant buildings keep people away from Main Street, said owner Nick Hurick.

“More businesses would get people down here,” Hurick said.

More businesses are just what the city hopes to attract with an “empty building ordinance.” The ordinance would ensure owners are doing all they can to minimize the time their buildings remain empty.

“We feel that there has not been enough effort (by business owners) to get people into these buildings,” said Evart Mayor Eric Schmidt.

Many buildings, like the one next to Hurick’s barber shot, were left vacant from business owners who rented buildings for one or two months and then moved out due to a failed business or change of location. The city wants owners to make those spaces look presentable to interested parties, instead of leaving them untouched. The council hopes the ordinance will accomplish that.

“If you don’t have it rented, maybe just put some kind of fake façade on the front, so it looks like they’re open,” Schmidt said.

Jan Booher, owner of Details salon on Main Street, thinks the vacant buildings would make an excellent place for a display of local art work.

“It’s not a good picture of our town,” Booher said. “Would it be that difficult to get an art class to display what they have done in one of these empty buildings?”

If building owners want to sell their building, the ordinance would require them to list it with a relator and make the space look presentable.

Schmidt encourages downtown vacant building owners to partner with the Downtown Development Authority for help in renovating their buildings to look better.

In September 2010, the Evart DDA approved the Evart Downtown Façade and Building Improvement Program to help business owners improve the physical appearance of buildings. Downtown businesses such as Northon’s Shire Bookshop and Unit Assistance have utilized the program and received up to $6,000 to improve their buildings. The application for the program can be found at www.evart.org.

Since the first time the “empty building ordinance” was discussed, City Manager Zack Szakacs has received many phone calls from building owners concerned about getting taxed, but Schmidt said the ordinance will not include a tax.

“Our goal isn’t to add taxes to the building. We want to let them know that there are options,” Schmidt said.

City Attorney Jim White is researching similar policies implemented by other cities and potential consequences for non-compliance by business owners. More information on the proposed ordinance will be presented at the next city council meeting to be held at 7 p.m. on Feb. 20 at Evart City Hall.