DDA sets goals for 2014

ESCANABA – With the start of 2014, the Escanaba Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is looking back on the past year as it sets goals for the next 12 months. The board discussed plans during its regular meeting Wednesday.

Six primary short- and long-term objectives for the DDA in 2013 included the annual downtown building facade improvement program which will also be continued into the new year.

Seven businesses received grant money from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for upgrades on the exteriors of their buildings in 2013.

Businesses which participated in last year’s program included Cat-Man-Do’s, the Morrison Shop, Northern Screen Printing, Record Rack, Supply Sergeant, T&T Hardware, and Wishful Thinking.

The 2013 local program consisted of $124,386 in economic development grants and $41,468 contributed by the property owners. Individual project costs ranged from $15,584 to $34,349.

Work included brick repair, installation of energy-efficient doors and windows, awning replacements, exterior painting, and other outside renovations.

Facade projects scheduled for this year are in the grant process, said DDA Director Ed Legault, adding that the business owners are enthusiastic about the program.

The facade plans will be reviewed by the DDA and SHPO with drawings to be completed by the architect firm within the next few weeks, he told the board Wednesday.

Much discussion at the meeting focused on the DDA’s goals for its farmers market. Currently, the farmers market is held inside the Civic Center on Saturdays during the winter. The remainder of the year, the outdoor marketplace is on the corner of 1st Avenue North and North 9th Street.

The DDA has been looking for a location to build an all-weather farmers market facility which could include a retail incubator for new businesses to start up and could include office space for the DDA.

The DDA discussed the possibility of stepping up the process by creating a retail incubator in one of the vacant buildings downtown. The idea will continue to be discussed on Jan. 15 when the DDA meets at 8 a.m. at city hall for a budget work session.

The DDA’s weatherization program for downtown commercial buildings is underway and helped finance audits detailing how businesses can save energy. Additional audits are expected and matching grants to weatherize buildings will be sought this year, said Legault.

Other on-going goals of the DDA are creation of a downtown streetscape plan and an infrastructure replacement plan along Ludington Street from Stephenson Avenue to 6th Street.

Both objectives have been on the DDA’s long-range agenda but not pursued due to the substantial amount of funding required for the joint projects with the city, said Legault.

Progress is being made on the DDA’s goal in seeking tax credits for downtown businesses through the National Register of Historic Places. The study for downtown has been completed and the project now awaits final certification, he added.

DDA Assistant Judy Schroeder also mentioned curb replacements will continue downtown. The authority is looking to plan this year’s activities including block-specific events, she said. Regular maintenance of downtown parking lots, streets and DDA property are also on-going goals.