This is part of a series led by the Michigan Downtown Association, celebrating 40 years of continuous improvement of Michigan communities and downtowns. Additional support also from Downtown Allen Park.
Allen Park's downtown district is one of many that is giving the Michigan Downtown Association plenty of reasons to celebrate 40 years of growth. This story is one in a partner content series led by the Michigan Downtown Association, celebrating 40 years of continuous improvement of Michigan communities and downtowns. Additional support also from Downtown Allen Park.
The diverse nature of the businesses in downtown Allen Park include a coffee shop that has become a gathering spot for residents and visitors, a pastry shop filled with hometown goodness, and a comic book shop that welcomes the casual browser and serious buyer with a mural depicting Superhero powers.
Since 2012, several developments have made way for Allen Park to rightly earn its name of the ‘Jewel of Downriver’, as new businesses have gone in to previously vacant storefronts, which has made way for a complete revival.
“Back then, we had a vacancy rate of about 26 percent, and things were pretty dire through the years following when we had an emergency city manager,” says Jennifer Kibby, executive director of Allen Park’s Downtown Development Authority. “But we’ve really experienced some significant growth in the last few years and welcomed more than 115 new businesses since 2012.”
Now, more than 450 businesses call downtown Allen Park home and the vacancy rate is down to below 13 percent.
Of the new businesses that have opened in the last eight years of this revival, over a third of them have been restaurants. Some of those new businesses include Thai Vylai, which opened in 2014, the addition of Major Tomato in 2015, and The Taco Stand Taqueria in 2016. The Taco Stand has already expanded to Taylor in the years since and is set to open its new location soon.
Allen Park is now home to more than 40 restaurants in the district.
“We pride ourselves on being a foodie destination and have many different types of cuisines,” says Kibby. “And with businesses like The Taco Stand, it’s nice to see them grow and know that they grew from the original location here.”
Plans in recent years have included assistance for businesses such as funding for façade improvements and free design assistance, repairs to leaky windows or coats of new paint.
Other investments have spurred larger investments, such as those completed by City Coffeehouse. Kibby says the owners of the business originally requested a $2,000 grant from the DDA for a window upgrade.
“Our designers encouraged them instead to install garage doors and entirely renovate the building at a cost of $50,000,” Kibby says. “The owners put in $25,000 and the DDA awarded them a $25,000 package of grants which covered the cost of the renovation.”
In the time since, three additional businesses have inquired about garage door style renovations, which will allow them to expand into the street, helping during transition years like 2020.
“The different façade improvement programs and grants have spurred other businesses to undertake renovations after seeing what it has done for places like City Coffeehouse,” says Kibby.
Another tool that has allowed Allen Park to thrive in recent years is the two liquor licenses that the DDA has received through the State of Michigan, a tool that can only be leveraged once cities reach their liquor license quota for buildings that undergo renovation of at least $75,000 over a period of five years. A third project is in the works.
So what’s next for Allen Park?
“We’re at a crossroads of sorts where we are at the end of our previous plan and looking towards what we want to be in the future,” says Kibby.
The previous TIF plan was revised in 1991, and everything has been completed with the exception of the South Allen Streetscape.
“With the constraints of 2020, we’ve focused on projects that are low-cost, and can be completed within some of these current requirements, but still offer high visibility and impact for our community,” says Kibby. “This year, that has meant instituting activity paths within the community, painting our bump outs at some of the major intersections and working the American Legion to hang banners of our service men and women on some of our buildings downtown. We hope to continue in the years to come, as we’ve had much less foot traffic in recent months than we normally would.”
Like many communities, businesses expanded their dining capacity by utilizing sidewalks for additional seating areas and increased awareness and support for downtown businesses through
Additional art is planned for 2021 and Allen Park has begun conversation with both the Detroit Institute of Arts and Wayne State University’s mural class to shape upcoming art and placemaking efforts.
Kibby hopes completion of the South Allen Streetscape will come in the next few years. The Allen Park community is also in the process of revising and updating the TIF plan for what is to come and the things that will allow Allen Park to continue to grow and thrive.
As planning continues for the future, a focus on supporting Allen Park’s thriving environment for entrepreneurship, commerce and social gathering continues.
“We’ve experienced some constraints in 2020 and that means we are still working on our plan for the future,” says Kibby. “The whole process takes 9-12 months on average, and we hope to complete our path forward this fiscal year, as it has to pass approval through all the different tax jurisdictions.”
Three of those plans are revising ordinances to make developments easier, and laying the groundwork to attract additional small-scale manufacturing to Allen Park.
“With our current environment, creating a long-term plan relying on mostly retail is a bit dicey, as there are so many factors that impact success,” says Kibby. “So, that is one of the reasons why we are really excited about our plans to work with small-scale manufacturing, businesses with maybe 5-6 employees and other facilities. I think those two things will add a ton of variety to our business district.”
“We’re not turning away retail, we are just aiming to create an environment for sustainable growth,” says Kibby. “Having space to accommodate both with various storefronts and needs will be a helpful for everyone long-term.”
Other exciting things to come include the renovation of the Allen Park Theatre, which closed officially in 2019.
“We are working through plans on the theatre, and we have put out requests for proposals,” says Kibby. “A market analysis still needs to be done, but it will likely add upwards of 20-50 units of housing it just depends on the final developer and what the market will bear.”
The theatre was a downtown staple in Allen Park for more than 77 years, so new life is both welcome and bittersweet.
“The plan is for the marquee to remain, as a nod to Allen Park’s history.”