By Rosemary Horvath
Several years ago the Michigan Municipal League published a book identifying characteristics propelling communities to stardom in the eyes of people living there and visitors who wish they were.
The 173-page “The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Community Around People” serves as a textbook for faceless and hodge-podge places that are now awakening to the importance of Place with a capital “P”.
In terms of economic development, communities are recognizing the critical importance of quality of life to attract talent and entrepreneurship, as Governor Rick Snyder puts it.
For years, the MML has helped elected officials and planners plot their community’s transformation.
The city of Harrison is one.
City Administrator-Clerk Tracey Beadle has attended numerous conferences and workshops focusing on economics of place and is ready to guide a series of major building projects starting with a new downtown streetscape and infrastructure improvement project.
For starters, Harrison and 13 other municipalities have received Downtown Infrastructure Grant program funds totaling $7.6 million.
Harrison’s share is $598,000 which will be augmented by the city’s match of $161,639.
“The project will assist with traffic calming and the streetscape program,” Beadle said, pointing to building street bumpouts, crosswalks marked with decorative stamping, decorative lighting, trash receptacles and landscaping.
Beadle said the center of the project is Main Street/M-61 and 2nd Street. The targeted area is 2nd Street from Beech Street to half block south of Main/M-61 and on Main Street/M-61 from 1st Street to Broad Street.
DIG is a community development block grant program aiding traditional downtowns to rebuild infrastructure. The program is intended for Michigan non-entitlement communities – specifically low to moderate income communities that do not receive funding directly from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Projects must benefit the entire community to be eligible for the funding.
“M-61 is a big piece of the project because we want people to slow down. They drive too fast through town,” said Beadle.
Goal is for Harrison to become a walkable and bikeable community. The city and Hayes Township are working together.
Each entity is developing its own individual master plan for each community but each plan will go hand in hand, Beadle added.
The city also has a master plan study underway for parks and recreation that will tie in with the overall city master plan.
Beadle said these master plans will open doors to more grant assistance.
Another project guaranteed to boost downtown redevelopment set for construction this year is a retail and incubator kitchen located in the 9,000 square foot L-shaped building wrapped around part of the Harrison Public Library.
Beadle said the city bought the former Ford garage with frontage on Second Street and Main Street 12 years ago in case the library wanted to expand, which won’t happen.
With financial assistance of $250,000 awarded by the USDA Rural Development, the city will operate the retail and incubator kitchen.
Beadle said the city has received numerous inquiries on when the facility will open. The facility’s function is to rent space to existing home-cottage businesses in need of a larger facility.
An incubator kitchen has been a popular request determined by a feasibility study the Middle Michigan Development Corporation administered on behalf of the city several years ago. At one time a likely location was to be the former Surry House building but that plan fell through.
“The incubator will help small businesses starting out,” Beadle said.
Whether they are cooking up pies, jelly or jam, they can lease space for a reasonable rate by the hour. The idea is to build up the business to eventually move to a larger location.
Idea of an incubator is to nurture startup businesses while providing basic necessities such as telephone, utilities, Internet, fax machines and clerical support.
Along with the idea the city will have a farmers’ market where products will be sold.
“The incubator kitchen has been in the works for a long time,” Beadle said, “and it is finally happening.”