Grant allows for Evart downtown revitalization

Project to begin in July

EVART — Major changes are expected to take place this summer in downtown Evart.

Evart is one of 14 communities in the state to receive a portion of $7.6 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Downtown Infrastructure Grant. The DIG program provides infrastructure improvement funding to projects located in downtown areas and is intended for low to moderate income communities. Each project must benefit the entire community. Evart's portion will be more than $600,000.

"The DIG program provides communities with a chance to grow and attract new business development in the downtown districts," said MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney in a press release. "We look forward to working closely with these communities to contribute to their success."

For the Evart community, a streetscape renovation project is expected to transform Main Street from Railroad Avenue to 5th Street.

"This is huge for Evart," said Evart DDA Director Al Weinberg. "It's a great win. The thing we really focused on was telling the story of what we want for the city. We're just trying to look our best so people know we're an attractive place to invest in. I guarantee that this will bring foot traffic and passersby to town."

Plans include adding greenery including trees along the sidewalks and rain garden planters.

"Not only will we be increasing the number of tress on Main Street, but each bump out will be designed to be a rain garden," Weinberg said. "We will have a natural filter for rain and snow melt to pass through before it hits our rivers and streams."

New signage will be posted, LED lighting will replace the current bulbs in the posts along Main Street, sidewalks will be constructed with American Disability Act tactile strips and an art node will add additional life and beauty to downtown. A rain garden, sitting areas and unisex bathrooms will be constructed in the pocket park. Designated bike trails will help connect the downtown area to the Pere Marquette Rail Trail.

"I don't see why this project wouldn't encourage people to open up a new business or rent a building in the downtown," said Evart City Manager Zack Szakacs, who represents the city on the DDA board. "For the people who use the trails — the snowmobilers, bikers and walkers — it'll be really enticing when they look north when traveling past Evart and see a nice downtown."

In addition, Osceola County's first electric car charging station also will be built on the 100th block of Main Street between U.S. 10 and 6th Street.

"We're located on a major thoroughfare and our traffic that travels down U.S. 10 triples in the summer," Szakacs said. "I've seen a lot of the electric cars pass by town, and with the station, maybe we can get some of them to stop downtown and visit some of the local businesses."

The total project cost is estimated to be $692,841, with a local match of $69,285, and must be complete by Dec. 31. Szakacs said the projected start date is right after July 4 and should take less than 60 days.

Evart Mayor Eric Schmidt is excited about what is in store for the small community.

"It's phenomenal," Schmidt said. "Al did a great job on the communications he made and putting this together. I'm really proud. It was a hard grant to obtain. I've heard a lot of positive feedback from the public."

He believes the new amenities will help draw potential businesses to the downtown district, while inspiring current business owners to further beautify their own.

“This project is a testimony of synergy,” Weinberg said. “Great things happen when we work together. Combined with our new welcome signs, new businesses opening, a fantastic summer Musicale line up and the diligent work of our city’s employees, this project will show our residents, visitors and passersby that Evart is the place to be.”