Esky ready for development

ESCANABA – Downtown building improvements, Escanaba’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and the city’s recent selection as a Redevelopment Ready Community are telling outsiders the community is ready for development.

That’s the message a representative from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) gave during a video conference from Lansing to a special council meeting in Escanaba on Thursday.

More than two dozen council and committee members met at city hall to be updated on current economic development projects in the city as well as others in the works. Attending were city administrators, council members, the planning commission, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), and the Historic District Commission.

“I don’t know any other city in the U.P. that has their ducks in line like Escanaba does,” SHPO representative Jessica Flores said as she reviewed state and federal programs in which the city is participating.

NATIONAL REGISTER OF

HISTORIC PLACES

Escanaba’s downtown was recently placed on the list of the National Register of Historic Places (See related story on this page). This designation not only recognizes the architectural features in Escanaba’s buildings but also is “enticing” for developers, Flores said.

Through the historic places program, income-producing properties are eligible for a 20 percent tax credit for renovations of the owner’s choice. If federal funds are used, specific renovation requirements must be met.

The Escanaba Central Historic District stretches for more than a mile along Ludington Street and includes parts of adjacent blocks. The district’s 185 buildings date mostly from the early 1880s to the mid-1960s.

“The national registry puts Escanaba on a national stage and pairs nicely with other things going on in Escanaba,” Flores added.

MEDC REDEVELOPMENT READY COMMUNITY

Escanaba was recently selected as a Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Redevelopment Ready Community (RRC). The statewide program certifies communities are “development ready” based on policies, practices, and community support.

“Receiving an RRC really elevates your presence in the state,” noted Flores “It shows you have an open door policy for development.”

City Manager Jim O’Toole explained the RRC process will offer a no-cost comprehensive review of the city’s zoning ordinances, city master plan, and downtown master plan.

Flores elaborated the RRC review will also assess the city’s business and residential opportunities, parking, downtown corridors, public input, targeted investments, redevelopment plans, and other economic practices.

“The RRC is good for Escanaba – the only one in the U.P. to step up to the plate,” Flores said. Last month, the city was notified it’s the first in the region to be selected for the program geared to attract business and talent to a community.

“The RRC shows Escanaba is a community that stands ready to respond to development,” she said, adding the RRC selection also shows that city officials and residents can work together to move the city forward.

FACADE IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM

In addition to the historic listing and the RRC, several downtown business owners have participated in a MEDC and DDA grant program to improve building facades.

Since 2006, a total of 33 businesses in the DDA district have received grants to spruce up their exteriors, explained DDA Director Ed Legault.

Overall, the program has received $350,000 from the state and $200,000 from the local DDA in addition to the $75,000 invested by property owners, he said.

While improving the exterior of buildings, the program minimizes deterioration of the downtown, enhances historical integrity, and encourages property investments, Legault added.

“All these programs – individually or together – will fortify our culture and provide opportunity for people to invest in the community’s economy and quality of life,” O’Toole commented after the meeting.

CERTIFIED LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROGRAM

Escanaba’s participation in the above three development programs is expected to improve the city’s chances of being approved as a Certified Local Government (CLG), Flores said.

This certification would provide the city with financial and technical assistance for specific projects which promote historic neighborhoods and commercial districts.

O’Toole noted the city and DDA master plans helped make Escanaba eligible to apply for the CLG program.

Council member Pat Baribeau commented these studies have not been put on the shelf but have been used as “building blocks to move the city forward.”

HISTORIC FACADE DESIGN GUIDELINES

Another economic development-related project underway in the city is guidelines for building improvements in the facade program and the historic district program.

Once completed, the proposed guidelines will be presented to the Historic District Committee and the DDA for recommendation to council, explained O’Toole.

LOFTS ON LUDINGTON

After the meeting, O’Toole noted that the Lofts on Ludington – a major historic building renovation project – was the catalyst for showing the community what is possible for Escanaba’s downtown. The apartment complex, developed by owners Matt and Beth Sviland of Escanaba, was supported by the city, MEDC, SHPO, the National Historic Register, and private investors.

Escanaba was chosen by SHPO to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the interest in local historic rehabilitation generated by the successful renovation of the Richter Brewery into the Lofts on Ludington apartments.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net