Council opts for new, less rigourous RRC option
A representative from MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program recently presented the city of Manistique with new options in their pursuit of the RRC designation. Pioneer Tribune photo

A representative from MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program recently presented the city of Manistique with new options in their pursuit of the RRC designation. Pioneer Tribune photo

MANISTIQUE – The city of Manistique took another step forward Monday in their quest to become a Redevelopment Ready Community. The Manistique City Council approved continued pursuit of the designation, albeit a less-intensive path, during Monday’s meeting.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Redevelopment Ready Community program is a no-cost, voluntary certification program designed to promote effective redevelopment strategies through a set of best practices. The program measures and then certifies communities that integrate transparency, predictability, and efficiency into their daily development practices.

The city first embarked on their quest for an RRC designation in 2018. In November, council members heard details of the city’s “baseline report” and agreed to approve a resolution to continue to pursue the RRC designation. There are six “best practices” involved in becoming a RRC community.

Christopher Germain, senior RRC planner with the MEDC, was on hand during Monday’s meeting to discuss the city’s next steps in the process.

“Redevelopment Ready Communities is … free and voluntary for communities,” he explained. “You guys, as a city, have been engaged in the program for a couple of years now, but you were caught in our backlog of evaluations, so you really only got moving back in November … so not a whole lot of stuff has really happened since then.

You’re now in phase four – most communities spend several years in this phase,” Germain continued. “They integrate things locally, update policies and practices locally that ultimately align with those six best practices.”

Overall, the RRC program has undergone “significant changes”, he added.

“(This) actually brings you, as a community, some new options,” he explained. “I wanted to talk through those and make sure that you’re still on the path that you want to be on, even once you know all those new options available.”

Germain noted that the changes to the program have been dubbed “RRC 2.0”.

“We are a different program than you would have known just a few months ago,” he explained. “There’s two big changes to the program. The first is the addition of new designations. Previously, when communities came into RRC, you were what we called ‘engaged’ in the program. That simply meant that you had formally indicated you wanted to join … the only goal for communities toward was full certification.”

However, MEDC soon discovered that full certification was a “heavy lift” for many communities, Germain said.

“It still remains that case for a lot of communities and there really just wasn’t another option,” he said. “We have now proposed two potential designations for communities to pursue. We call one RRC Essentials and then one is still RRC certified.”

The Essentials route is all about building a “foundation” with “key components” of the RRC program, Germain added.

“The Essentials level only focuses on those first four best practices … there’s a much smaller, narrower set there,” he said. “That’s plans and engagement, zoning, development review, and then boards and commissions. The Certified designation continues to focus on all six of those best practices (plans and engagements, zoning, development review, boards and commissions, economic development and marketing, and redevelopment ready sites).”

The best practices were also part of the recent overhaul and each best practice has its own expectations.

“We went in and spent hours in each best practice really figuring out what is working,” Germain explained. “We dropped some expectations that weren’t working … we’ve added a few new ones, but not many. We really focused on reorganizing them to make them easier for us to objectively evaluate and easier for communities to do.

There used to be 41 criteria, now there’s 23 in the Essentials level and 30 in the certified level,” he continued. “A pretty substantial overhaul of the structure of the best practices.”

Germain noted that communities that begin pursuing attaining the Essentials level designation may decide later to seek full certification.

“It just kind of sets you up for that success,” he said. “Another way the two levels are different are the tools and the benefits that are available to our communities at each designation … The amount of technical assistance you have access to does vary, depending on which designation you choose. Simply because one requires a lot more work than the other.”

The primary difference between the Essential and Certified designation, Germain said, is access to “redevelopment services team”.

“Once you reach certification, they come and support communities in attracting redevelopment to priority redevelopment sites in the community,” he explained. “They’re a fantastic tool – they require some level of capacity.”

While Manistique has been moving ahead slowly, Germain said the progress is noticeable.

“You are definitely in a better situation than some folks … in terms of meeting the Essentials level going forward,” he explained.

Germain noted that the city would have to consider capacity first when deciding whether to choose pursuit of the Essentials or Certified levels.

“The Essentials level designation is really designed for communities that don’t have a dedicated zoning administrator or that person wears multiple hats and has other things to focus on,” he said. “It sets you up for achieving the Certified level later on.

Do you need access to the Redevelopment Services Team, do you need the extra site marketing assistance, and all those other benefits that come with it (Certified level)?” Germain continued. “If you do, great, let’s get you the certification. If you don’t think you need those right away or maybe those are longer term goals, Essentials might be more up your community’s alley.”

Germain also explained that those working at the MEDC are “realists” and realize many communities join the RRC program for the “prioritization for community development incentives”.

“We don’t blame them … it’s a good choice to make,” he said. “The Essentials level allows most communities to do that.”

Germain said that there are three things communities pursuing either designation should consider.

“One, RRC really takes a village … we’re really, ultimately, all going to have to be involved in this,” he explained. “We remind people that you all have to be at the table to succeed in RRC.

Prioritization always helps,” Germain continued. “Even at the Essentials level, we give you 23 different things to work on. So, picking a couple of things at a time is where you really want to be going forward.”

The final thing RRC communities need to focus on is long-term projects, Germain said.

“We do want to make sure that communities are continually moving forward,” he explained.

Following Germain’s presentation, Councilperson Joan Ecclesine said she would be more comfortable with the city first pursuing the Essentials designation.

“I would like to see us go on to the Certified level, but I think, realistically, we should start with the Essentials and see how we do,” she said. “We can always jump higher if we want to. I think putting a goal of Essentials on our plate – hopefully we can have some good success with that.”

Mayor Kimberly Shiner agreed with Ecclesine, noting that the level was more “achievable” for the city.

“I don’t think this would be really that difficult to … get there,” she said. “And then we can move onto the next phase.

I also think we’re in a really good place with our STC (Schoolcraft Tourism and Commerce) and our economic development in our county,” Shiner continued. “We can look to them to be a part of the team to help move us forward in this.”

Council members unanimously approved moving forward in obtaining the Essentials level within the RRC program.

For more information on the MEDC Redevelopment Ready Communities criteria or program, visit miplace.org/programs/redevelopment ready-communities.

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