Boyne City Main Street visits Detroit

Boyne City and Detroit might not seem like they have a lot in common, but downtown professionals in both are learning from each other in a recent collaboration.
Boyne City Main Street is on a road trip this week.

Members of the organization, along with Scottville Main Street, Manistee Main Street and other area Main Street communities are invading Detroit this week. They'll be joined by more than 1,300 downtown development professionals, volunteers and thinkers from communities throughout the country. For four days, they'll attend 60 educational sessions in Cobo Hall, as well as travel to 15 areas in Metro Detroit for mobile workshops. They'll tour Ferndale. They'll party at Eastern Market. For the first time, Detroit is hosting the annual National Main Street Conference.

Why does that matter to Boyne City? Because over the last 30 years, the National Main Street Center has tracked $59.6 billion in reinvestment in physical improvements from both public and private sources in their communities, with a net gain of 115,381 businesses and 502,728 jobs. In 2013, every dollar invested in Main Street communities resulted in $33.28 of economic impact, making it most effective downtown revitalization effort in the country--and northwest Michigan downtowns have contributed to those great statistics.

Main Street communities such as Boyne City Main Street use the National Main Street Center's Four Point Approach, an organizational technique to revitalize historic downtowns. The concept centers on a comprehensive strategy that addresses a range of common downtown development issues simultaneously--all driven by volunteers.

"It's the grassroots nature of it and the committee structure that makes it work," says Boyne City Main Street volunteer Michelle Cortright. "Because it's ours. We don't have any benefactors in our town who provide money for things. We know its up to us to make it happen."

When Boyne City Main Street officially joined the program a decade ago, they'd already been operating as a downtown development authority for some time. The organization has found that leveraging volunteers to tackle all aspects of downtown development--promotions, organization, business development and design--has made all the difference for downtown Boyne City.

"From where we were before Main Street to where we are now, it's just amazing," Cortright says. "The energy, the vibrancy, the economic impact--people always say, 'What is it you're doing up there?'

"It's such a joy to be recognized and for people to be excited about what we're doing."

The physical changes downtown over the past decade are a testimony to the impact of Main Street. From facade improvements to infrastructure projects, Cortright says Boyne City has transformed from a place that was dead at 5 p.m. to a downtown with every parking space and restaurant full, even on winter evenings.

Among the many services available to Boyne City Main Street, including training and design, marketing and branding services from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority's Michigan Main Street Center, one of the biggest benefits to being a part of the nationwide movement is the networking and support from other communities.

"We're all going through the same issues," says Boyne City Main Street Manager Hugh Conklin. "We encounter the same rough spots and good spots, and we can learn a lot from each other."

That networking will go into hyperdrive this week during the National Main Street Conference. While the annual event has been hosted in such cities as Des Moines, Baltimore and Oklahoma City, Detroit is an especially apt location for this year's event.

"There is so much innovation happening in the neighborhoods of Detroit," says Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. "People are working to bring business back, and bring housing back, and that is exciting. There is a lot of excitement and commonality between some of the things Detroit's neighborhoods struggle with and what our communities struggle with."

What's more, though there are currently no official Main Street organizations within Detroit, Michigan itself is home to two state coordinating bodies, the Michigan Main Street Center and Oakland County's Main Street Oakland County, and more than 30 local programs throughout the state. And, not to brag, but Michigan communities have left three of the last four National Main Street Conferences with coveted Great American Main Street Awards.

"We are seeing a lot of Michigan communities really standing out," says Frey. "Michigan Main Street and Oakland County have a really strong track record of working with and investing in communities. But it comes back down to the people on the ground."

Those people on the ground, ready to lend a hand to make a better community, are what Main Street communities have in common more than anything else, making the theme of this year's conference, "Works in Progress," incredibly appropriate.

"There might be a lot of work ahead for areas in Detroit, but we're a city on the rise and on the comeback," says Main Street Community Downtown Ferndale's Cristina Sheppard-Decius. "We have a lot of great lessons people can learn from that."

Fortunately, the Chicago-based National Main Street Center recognized that, and believed in Detroit enough to bring their popular conference to a city with so much to share.

"Nobody knows better than Detroiters the power of a community-driven approach to revitalization," write Frey and National Main Street Center Board Chair Barbara Sidway in the conference program.

And after this week, Boyne City Main Street and others will be bringing that knowledge and experience back from Detroit to the benefit of our area, just as Detroit will be left with some Boyne City wisdom to fold into the revitalization efforts happening there.

Want to see what's happening in Main Street communities throughout Michigan? Check out the eight other Issue Media Group Publications this week to learn how Main Street and this week's conference is making an impact, from Iron Mountain to Saline.

This story is part of a placemaking series that is underwritten by the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority.
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