Downtown Esky

ESCANABA – The new director of Escanaba’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is doing a “fabulous” job, according to the organization’s personnel committee, which gave Ed Legault a “perfect” rating during a recent review.

Legault officially began working as DDA director in November last year. Earlier this month, the DDA presented its six-month review of his job performance.

“He received nothing below ‘perfect’ on his six-month review,” said DDA Chair Sue Parker. “We all feel he’s doing a fabulous job.”

Following Legault’s hiring, he immediately began working on ongoing projects and “took the ball and rolled with it,” said Parker, adding, “We’re very happy to have him.”

Banners proposed a few years ago to promote the downtown are now displayed along Ludington Street. The facade grant program to help pay for upgrades to business exteriors is moving along. Plans for a marketplace for downtown events and activities are also underway.

Legault said the DDA directorship has been a learning process for him as he works to build stronger relationships with the community and achieves a better understanding of projects and plans that were in the making before his arrival.

Specific events which Legault has overseen to date, with the help of Assistant Director Judy Schroeder, have been the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, the New Year’s Eve pasty drop, and the Rib Fest held in conjunction with the Krusin’ Klassic’s Fun Run. Downtown’s sidewalk sales take place on July 25.

The DDA has assisted in Escanaba’s “Rock the Dock” on June 7 and is helping out with more “Rock the Dock” activities on July 5 and Aug. 2. The event includes concerts, food, and free children activities at the municipal dock.

In addition to the above projects and events, Legault said he is making efforts to meet with downtown stakeholders as well as local citizens to receive input on common goals for downtown.

Legault said it’s important for the DDA to continue to develop relationships with local businesses, the Downtown Business Partners, the City of Escanaba, planning commission, historical commission, chamber of commerce, and arts center.

State agencies which the DDA has worked with over the years include the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), he added.

“They’re advocates of Escanaba. They’re going to help guide us,” said Legault.

The DDA is currently working with eight downtown businesses to receive grant money from SHPO through the MEDC for upgrades on the facades of buildings. Each year, businesses participate in the grant match program to improve their building exteriors.

Helping to improve downtown businesses is a part of the DDA’s role, Legault said. The DDA also maintains several parking lots and sidewalks.

“The DDA’s role also includes trying to attract complimentary businesses,” said Legault. “We also support events and promotions downtown. We encourage economic growth and the creation of jobs. We promote the identity of downtown.”

Funds to build a downtown marketplace are currently being sought from MEDC’s Farm to Food Program and other grant programs, said Legault. Architectural plans have been drawn up for a large community pavilion to be constructed on the current site of the farmer’s market.

In addition to attracting more businesses and visitors, the DDA wants to encourage development of residential properties downtown, said Legault, seeing much potential in existing buildings.

The DDA is also looking into creating an incubator program downtown for businesses starting out, he said. One possibility is a culinary incubator where an established kitchen would share use of its facility, he said.

Legault noted that plans will be drawn up on specific ideas for downtown so when funding becomes available, projects are ready to be submitted for grant approval.

“The state is going to be spending money. They can spend it here in Escanaba,” he noted.

Escanaba was recently selected as a Redevelopment Ready Community (RRC). The MEDC program certifies communities are “development ready” based on policies, practices, and community support. The program, geared to attract business and talent to a community, offers a free review of the city’s zoning ordinances and master plans.

As DDA director, Legault said a goal of his is to allow more opportunity for business and public input on downtown projects. He plans to hold future public forums on specific issues.

Legault said he is excited about the downtown’s recent placement on the list of the National Register of Historic Places. This designation recognizes architectural features in buildings and encourages renovations which qualify for a 20-percent tax credit.

“There are absolutely beautiful architectural buildings downtown,” said Legault. “We should do everything we can to try to keep the historical integrity of those buildings through preservation and restoration.”

Another possibility Legault said he would like to see in the downtown’s distant future is the return of the street car.

“People would come from far away just to see that,” he said.

Legault and his wife, Schendell, live in Escanaba with their daughters, Shyanne and Paige. Three older children residing out-of-state are Jimmy, Matt and Emily.

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