January 25, 2012 - Ortonville- The village is small, but it has plenty of heart thanks to enthusiastic volunteers.
An empty warehouse at 255 Narrin Street, which may soon be village property. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
On Jan. 18, Thom Guzman, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, conducted a day-long assessment of the village's Main Street program, along with Alex Hritcu, assistant Main Street coordinator for Oakland County. The evaluation measures the village's progress in the economic development and historic preservation program.
"I wish I could take your passion and transport it to other programs," said Guzman in addressing village officials and Main Street members during the review. "You are to be commended for your passion and commitment. You have a great functioning board and leaders."
Guzman, who has evaluated Main Street programs in communities across the country, confirmed that the village will be reaccredited in the program. The village became a Main Street community in 2004. The 10 criteria used to evaluate progress in Main Street communities are broad-based community support; vision and mission statements; historic preservation ethic; paid, professional DDA/Main Street Program Director; program of ongoing training; reporting of key statistics; Main Street Network membership; comprehensive work plan; active board and committees and adequate operating budget. Communities must meet all 10 criteria annually to receive accreditation.
"It's always exciting to spend a day looking back at what we've done," said Main Street Manager/DDA Executive Director Molly LaLone. "It was an honor to have (Guzman) in our town and I was so pleased that we were able to impress him with some of the things we do. He had great ideas that were very personal to Ortonville and it's important that we keep trying different things so we stay interested in what we are doing."
Guzman said the most successful Main Street organizations understand that they have to take risks to become stronger. He noted that while it had been expressed to him during the evaluation that the Ortonville program is in need of more volunteers, such persons do not often come in groups, but usually one at a time, and from current Main Street members' circle of family and friends.
"The big concern is you have a challenge because Main Street leaders cycle about every five years," he said. "How do you find people as passionate as you?"
Guzman suggested looking for volunteers in the under-25 demographic to become involved in Main Street.
Besides volunteers, other areas of concern include vacant businesses in the downtown district. Guzman noted there are four such vacancies in the village.
"Every 25-foot wide vacant storefront is worth a quarter of a million dollars in lost economic activity," he said. "Once you know this, you will never walk past those vacant buildings again without thinking of the lost revenue."
He advised placing window displays in the vacant storefronts, and changing them monthly.
The Main Street program uses a four-point approach for which there are separate committees:: organization— building consensus and cooperation; promotion— marketing the downtown's assets to local citizens, new businesses, customers and new private investors; design—improving the physical appearance of the downtown by rehabilitating historic buildings and encouraging new compatible construction and long-term design management; and economic restructuring— strengthening the downtown's existing economic base and finding ways to expand it with new opportunities.
Guzman said each of these committees should be submitting an action plan and not receiving appropriations until they have done so.
The village Main Street program is on the right track with fundraisers, however. He praised "Night at the Races" event, in which guests view and bet on horse races to win a variety of prize packages while enjoying food, a cash bar and each other's company to raise money for a good cause.
The Downtown Development Authority and Main Street volunteers are also establishing a charitable foundation known as Friends of AMOS (Always Making Ortonville Strong). The purpose of the foundation, said LaLone, is to run special events and raise funds for historic restoration of buildings in the village, and to raise funds for events such as CreekFest and Christmas in the Village.
For more information, contact Molly LaLone at 248-627-8070.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville