Great change: A decade in Midland garners more than $272 million in investment

A decade ago, Midland was fresh off one of the early seasons of the Loons and the Holiday Inn was set to open in its new location near the Midland Mall. While it is often said that the days are long but the years are short, the decades can pass by even quicker.

So, while it may seem that Midland may not change very much from day to day, the years of investment that collect over a decade have sure made an impact on our city.

A new mural being painted on the exterior of Live Oak Coffeehouse is one of the many artistic additions.

If you’ve met a friend for coffee at Live Oak Coffeehouse, dined at Maru Sushi or Gratzi, or played with your kids or grandkids at the new Central Park Elementary STEM playground among the many other new developments, you’ve been a part of that collective change.

Taken together, the total amount of commercial investment made in the City of Midland over the last decade accumulates to a hefty tally of more than $272 million across 290 projects.

“Business investments from our largest companies to our smallest entrepreneurs coupled with new entertainment and recreation venues have made for some phenomenal changes in Midland over the past decade,” says City Manager Brad Kaye. “Close to $300 million in total investment in the City of Midland alone speaks volumes as to the many great partnerships and opportunities that reside both here and in the Great Lakes Bay Region.”

Molasses opened in Downtown Midland in 2019.

Midland’s growth has taken place on a grand scale like Whiting Forest which has now welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to the nation’s longest canopy walk, or kicking off the inaugural Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational and the Eat Great Food Festival, to revamping Downtown Midland’s streetscape, to Dow’s new corporate center and the expanded Michigan Operations I-Park.

But it has also happened on a small scale, like the residents turned developers shaping the organic evolution of Midtown and new spots like Grove Tea Lounge, where two couples helped set a new course for an old bank.  

Grove Tea Lounge was one of the many new businesses that opened in the last ten years.

“From opening and running a business in Midland recently, I’m most excited to see these next few projects downtown come to fruition,” says Patrick McElgunn, co-owner of Grove Tea Lounge. “I think the ripple effect from multiple efforts like the 4D site redevelopment, the plaza underneath the Poseyville bridge and others, will create a significant change in the vision of how we use our spaces, streets and how it all relates to one another.”

“I think if we see the current trend continue, from the work that has been done in Downtown Midland, Midtown and Center City, we will eventually become a city that is fully accessible and connected from end to end, regardless of an individual’s or family’s transportation situation,” says McElgunn. “And that interconnectedness will only serve to strengthen our community by bringing us closer together, encouraging more people to stay in the area and hopefully creating a cascade of additional development and growth.”

The Whiting Forest Canopy Walk opened its doors and has since welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Over the last decade, change has been spurred by big dollars, like the $34 million in philanthropic donations by the Midland Area Community Foundation to local grant recipients, funding key local efforts which include Ten16 Recovery Network, Plymouth Fun Zone, Shelterhouse, as well as many more.

MACF has continued to work in addressing community needs, whether that is helping to fund new facilities, community projects, disaster recovery or a number of education initiatives in the community ranging from preschool scholarships, helping with college costs for economically disadvantaged students and workforce training.

With the start as a wildly popular food truck, Pizza Baker opened with the help of some local crowdfunding efforts.

But meaningful change also happens in thousands of small ways with small dollars as well, as we’ve seen in the case of MyPros crowdfunding efforts for Pizza Baker, which reached its funding goal in just three short weeks and the socks donated to Jaxson Lewis’ Socktober efforts to help those in need.

“The community foundation motto is ‘For good. For ever’. Over the last ten years, the collective efforts toward giving back have made an enormous impact, whether that has been something that makes Midland a better place for everyone, or it is a small gesture that helps one person make ends meet,” says Sharon Mortensen, President and CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation. “Working together with our partners, we have been able to make a positive, lasting and collective impact in our community and look forward to continuing to transform this community that we love. The bottom line is, we want to be a community where all residents can thrive.”

It's not all brick and mortar, as our perspective has changed just as much as the city’s skyline. While we’ve been graced with new developments from hotels and university centers, to office and condo developments downtown, to the redesign of the M-20 bridge, it’s extraordinary to tabulate what has changed in the community in the last few years, let alone ten.

A new STEM school and playground took shape in Midland.

And with all that change comes new perceptions of possibility – which we’ve seen that take shape at places like Larkin Beer Garden, as an old parking lot and a refurbished shipping container transformed into Midland’s go-to communal watering hole and gathering spot, complete with food trucks and games for all.

The side of a building serves as the perfect backdrop for outdoor movies at both Dow Gardens and Movies on Main on warm summer nights. The front porch of the historic Pines Home looks a bit different from a lawn chair with a picnic basket, watching a live set from one of the many talented artists that have played in the Pines Concert Series.

If the last ten years have shown us anything, it is that anything is possible with a good idea, passion and community support.

Midland welcomed the inaugural Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational and Eat Great Food Festival.

Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond

So, what’s next? As the big, even number of a new decade looms, more change is taking shape.  
While looking through the list of projects on deck to wrap up or break ground, there are no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The next steps in the community’s transformation will include the City of Midland's plan for upgrading aspects of Center City, the Michigan Baseball Foundation tackling plans for the future of the Strosacker Building downtown and it’s still worth shouting that brunch is coming.

Plenty of new gathering spaces took shape, including Larkin Beer Garden.

The next year will welcome Three Bridges Distilling, a new restaurant in the H Hotel, as well as renovations planned for the Midland Community Center. The news of Costco’s plans to build a new facility recently made a big splash as well as the forthcoming 100,000 square-foot Equestrian Center planned for Midland County Fairgrounds.

Increasing connectedness and access to the outdoors will be driven by the evolution of Grove Park and Midtown by extension and the continued progress on the proposed Poseyville Riverside Park and former 4D concrete manufacturing site, increasing nature preserve and park settings near Downtown Midland.

As we look to 2020 and beyond, one thing can be certain – there will be great changes.

*$272 million based off of the commercial value of all permit applications for a period of ten years ending in 2019.

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Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.