Into the future
MANISTIQUE – Community officials, leaders, and members of the public gathered last week to focus on the near and distant future for the community, as well as acknowledge the past projects of the city. The gathering was a Manistique City Council and Downtown Development Authority joint goal-setting session that lasted over three hours and produced numerous short- and long-term goals.
The meeting began with an overview of the DDA’s past goals, which the organization began mapping out in 2006. Since that time, the group’s focus has been consistently placed on Manistique Marina improvements, but also included development on both sides of the Manistique River and infrastructure improvements.
Following the overview, Jen Tucker from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which works closely with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, delivered a presentation addressing what possible programs would be available to the city in order to promote job creation and eliminate blight. Tucker noted that the MEDC pulls funding for most projects from the federal Community Development Block Grant program, which has stringent regulations, and requires users to meet national objectives, including blight elimination.
She explained the MEDC is primarily focused on traditional downtowns, such as Manistique’s, and promoting private business development in those areas.
“We want to help offset costs of utilizing space in our commercial core that already exists, rather than spreading it out to … what we call the ‘green fields’ – the underdeveloped parts of our community,” she said. “We want to encourage historic redevelopment, historic rehabilitation.”
Tucker noted that if the city is looking for blight elimination funding from the MEDC, that they will be more likely to obtain it if the project is within the downtown and is focused on rehabilitation, not demolition. In addition, she explained that the 2007 Census data used by the CDBG program indicates that Manistique is no longer a low-to-moderate income community, making it slightly more difficult to receive funds from the program.
One option for the city, Tucker explained, is to receive MEDC support through a private developer willing to invest in the city’s downtown. She noted the city could draw these investors to the area by obtaining a Redevelopment Ready Community certification, which is a voluntary, no cost program that assists local municipalities in establishing a sound foundation for redevelopment and investment to occur in their communities.
In respect to blight, Tucker said the community could develop a Neighborhood Improvement Authority, which, much like a DDA, reinvests increments of property value increases back into the area. The DDA itself can provide local grant matching programs that invest in private properties, such as demolition, she added.
The city, Tucker said, may also create a Land Bank Authority, which is typically led by the county treasurer and self-funded. This authority would buy and sell foreclosed property, using the money earned to demolish the blighted properties in the area.
City Manager Sheila Aldrich added blight as both a short- and long-term DDA/city goal.
“We’ve really been trying to focus on blight,” she said. “We’ve had some issues with blight – I get a lot of complaints at my office about blight. This community has really taken a lot of pride in making it look nice and blight becomes one of the issues.”
The current problem with blight within the city was also addressed by Manistique Public Safety Director Ken Golat, who pointed out that the city pursues the owners of these homes, but the majority of the time, they are either unable to pay for updates or demolition or are located out of state or country, making them nearly impossible to prosecute. He added that each demolition the city takes on averages $10,000-$20,000.
“Ultimately the city takes on the cost of the demo,” Golat said. “We don’t have that money in our budget. We realize the problem here, so we’re very picky … on which ones we pursue.”
He added the city is currently pursuing two home demolitions.
County Treasurer Julie Roscioli also spoke about the blight problem, explaining that when owners of these blighted homes do not pay their taxes, the homes are foreclosed upon and first offered to the city, but if the city does not desire the property, it is placed in a public auction. The problem with this process, Roscioli said, is that anyone can buy the properties for minimal cost over the internet. Oftentimes, she noted, the properties are scooped up by more owners who allow it to be foreclosed upon again – creating an endless cycle.
Aldrich and the audience members agreed that the goal of blight elimination should include more collaboration between the city and the county, as well as research into available programs and funding sources, such as a millage or organizational fundraising.
Another goal added to the shortterm goal list included continued marketing of the area. According to Aldrich, the city has been diligently working with both the Manistique Tourism Council and Schoolcraft County Chamber of Commerce to advertise the area. This advertisement includes new “Ride the Raft” and “Walk the Walk” billboards, featuring Palms Brook State Park’s Big Spring and the Manistique boardwalk, respectively.
The city has also signed on to develop a “Pure Michigan” radio advertisement campaign. Aldrich noted a Pure Michigan team had recently been in the area to visit the sites and conduct research and will produce an ad which will begin running in spring.
“Manistique, on the Pure Michigan, Michigan.org site, will be listed as a ‘featured destination,” Aldrich said. “So we’ll get special attention on the Pure Michigan (site).”
She added that the city’s marketing group is “ambitious” and looking to place billboards below the Mackinac Bridge, as well as Wisconsin.
Under long term goals, a land acquisition, currently underway, for the development of a city campground, was added, as well as the continued updating of the Manistique Marina.
Also added to the goal list was creation of signage indicating to U.S. Hwy 2 motorists where to turn to enter downtown Manistique. Manistique City Councilperson Bill Vandagriff pointed out that there is currently no signage directing motorists to South Cedar Street.
“We don’t actually have a sign anywhere that points to where our downtown is,” he said. “The only sign I’ve ever seen that says ‘downtown’ is right there on M-94.”
The final item added to the short-term list of goals was further website development. Aldrich pointed out that the city is currently looking into this goal, and investing money in not only updating their website, but also working to direct people to www.visitmanistique.com, which is run by the Manistique Tourism Council.