A pair of vacant buildings still stand at the corner of Huron Avenue and Port Crescent Street in Bad Axe, but work is well underway to create a new home for the Huron County Community Foundation.
One building will be demolished -- this summer -- and the last of any soil contamination removed (one of the sites was once home to a gas station). Asbestos removal from the buildings was completed earlier this year.
The other building, at 101 W. Huron Ave., will be renovated, providing about 7,000 square feet of space for the Community Hub. The building will serve as permanent offices for the community foundation and provide space for a variety of community needs, including a community meeting room and co-working space. The project is expected to be completed by mid-2024.
The Community Hub is the realization of strategic planning by the Huron County Community Foundation (HCCF). The foundation is working closely with the Huron County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to have the site cleaned up.
The site of the future home of the Huron County Community Foundation.
The Huron County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority received a $600,000 grant to assist with the environmental testing and remediation required at the site. These dollars were instrumental in HCCF moving forward with the development of the site. HCCF has raised, through local charitable contributions, more than $650,000. through the USDA Rural Facilities program, federal funding in the amount of $783,000.
"We have had incredible support from the local community -- individual donors and corporate commitments. Fundraising is ongoing," says Mackenzie Price, executive director of HCCF.
The foundation has never had its own office space since its inception in the late 1990s. The desire for permanent space played a role in the creation of the Community Hub, but the public-spirited organization also considered the needs of the Thumb community in its planning. Four small apartments and green space are part of the $2 million project.
The idea first of creating a “community hub” in the city of about 3,000 people began circulating in 2018.
“We had conducted a strategic priorities process that included one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and a community-wide digital survey,” Price says.
From the survey, retaining and attracting a talented/trained workforce, creating a vibrant and dynamic community and cultivating an environment for business development were marked as the top three strategic priorities.
“We started looking at properties that would allow us to bring community resources that impact strategic priorities to the area, along with providing a permanent home for the community foundation.” Price says.
Those resources include a community board room. The room will be available to community organizations to hold board meetings. Price and the HCCF know what it’s like not to have space for meetings.
“We recognize that a lot of the great work and organizations that are really impactful in our area are totally volunteer driven and, like us, don’t have their own office space,” she says.
She is hopeful that bringing community nonprofits together can help in the growth and cultivation of relationships between nonprofit organizations and ensure resources are being deployed as efficiently as possible.
The co-working space also will serve community needs. The space will be available to the public on a subscription basis, with daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual plans available.
The coronavirus pandemic, she says, created an increase in the number of people working remotely and a fluctuation of people moving into the area.
“We wanted to provide the office space to put those folks, as well as folks that may be interested in starting a small business but just need a lower barrier to entry,” Price says.
The coworking space could be beneficial to regional tourism. Having space available for visitors might entice them to lengthen their stay and spend more money in the community.
There will be four residential units on the second floor, each with a one-bedroom plan. The 800-square-foot units are intended to be used as corporate leases for employers to offer. These units will provide a short-term housing option for young professionals considering staying in, or locating to, the area, as well as employees of regional companies temporarily in the area for work.
Asbestos cleanup has been wrapped up at the buildings.
Price says the units were designed through conversation with local employers, who were asked what were the barriers to attracting and retaining talent in Huron County. Housing was flagged as one of the hurdles.
“We know that four units aren’t going to change the game when it comes to housing in Huron County,” she says. “Our hope is that we can provide a model and example to show that there is demand for this type of housing; That other folks with a second floor above their first floor commercial space will follow suit.”
The Community Hub sits next to a bank and coffee shop -- both feature charming exterior landscapes. The HCCF hopes to follow suit and help bolster the curb appeal of the main downtown area.
Price says that the bank has beautiful grass and landscaping with a brick courtyard and a clock, while the coffee shop has a green exterior and outdoor seating. A “parklet” will be created to add greenery and a sitting area for those visiting downtown establishments. The plan is to use a parking lot on the south side of the Community Hub as green space.
“We’re going to be able to take that space that has been a parking lot and make it a small outdoor patio with pretty landscaping around it, but also with outdoor seating,” she says.
The first phase of the long-awaited project began on Feb. 27, with the removal of asbestos from the two buildings. The demolition of the building at 101 N. Crescent will be next. Then the ground will be dug up to remove trace amounts of petroleum remaining in the soil because of the former gas station.
For information, including project updates, visit HCCF Community Hub Project
Sarah Ratledge is a Traverse City-based writer. She is a frequent contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange and UPword. She has also written for Issue Media Group’s Input Fort Wayne