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Oxford loses Main Street accreditation

Signs informing visitors that Oxford Village is a Main Street Oakland County community greet M-24 motorists at the town's north and south ends. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
March 12, 2014 - Oxford Village lost a source of local pride last week as it failed its annual Main Street evaluation.

As a result, it will not receive accreditation from the National Main Street Center in Washington D.C.

Some officials, like Oxford Village Councilwoman Sue Bossardet, were very upset because in their mind, the community has lost something valuable and meaningful.

"It's the prestige of being a Main Street community," she said. "Not every town can do that. Not every town has the ability to rise up and meet those criteria and be recognized for it."

Other officials, like Bill Dunn, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), believe the loss won't impact the town.

"It's not the end of the world," he said. "Downtown isn't going anywhere. The businesses aren't going anywhere. We just don't have this feather in our cap anymore. Losing our certification doesn't mean people are going to stop coming to Oxford or businesses are going to start closing. It's just a title. Life will go on."

According to Bossardet, Dunn and village Manager Joe Young, Oxford lost its accreditation because it failed to meet three out of the 10 criteria used by national and county Main Street officials when evaluating progress in communities.

Communities must meet all 10 criteria annually to receive accreditation.

One of those criteria is having a paid, professional DDA/Main Street program director, who works a minimum of 25 hours per week.

Last year, the village council voted to eliminate the DDA director's position in order to save money and build up the authority's reserves. The DDA had zero cash reserves at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year and had to rely on a transfer from the village's general fund in order to avoid ending with a deficit.

Given the budget crisis at the time, Dunn said it was the right thing to do.

"I'd rather have money in the bank to pay our bills and help businesses with things like those facade grants than keep somebody on the payroll and go in the hole just to be able to say we're (a) Main Street (community)," he said.

Oxford also failed the portion of the evaluation that calls for the DDA to have an active board and committees.

Two of its committees, organization and economic restructuring, are not functioning to the extent they should be.

These committees, like almost every other aspect of the DDA, are volunteer-driven.

Bossardet said one of the problems is the DDA lacks volunteers.

"People need to step forward and help. It takes a lot of volunteers," she said. "Oxford doesn't have a whole lot of money, so you have to look at other ways (to get things done)."

The third strike against Oxford in the Main Street evaluation was the fact that the DDA's work plans were not up to snuff, according to Young.

"Our work plans were not being maintained up to their standards," he said.

Oxford became a Main Street community in 2004.

It's one of 19 communities that are part of the Main Street Oakland County (MSOC) program.

According to its website, MSOC is a "unique economic development program with a historic preservation philosophy and an emphasis on 'sense of place.'" MSOC helps develop downtowns as "vibrant, successful, districts that serve as the heart of their communities."

Main Street communities utilize a four-point approach consisting of organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring, each of which has its own committee working to accomplish goals such as fostering cooperation, cultivating a positive image, creating a safe, inviting environment for visitors and strengthening and diversifying the economic base.

Over the years, Oxford has been accredited as a Main Street community, lost its accreditation, regained it and now, lost it again.

This reporter sought comments from Bob Donohue, MSOC program coordinator, regarding Oxford's loss of accreditation and the impact it will have, but he failed to respond to numerous phone messages and e-mails.

"This isn't the first time we've lost it," Dunn said. "We'll survive. We still have a DDA. That didn't go away. It doesn't need to be Main Street-certified to help the local businesses."

Bossardet noted as a Main Street community, Oxford did receive some tangible benefits.

"We get a lot of help from the county and a lot of educational opportunities," she said. "We get free architectural drawings. Nobody has to pay for that."

Bossardet's not sure if those resources will still be available.

"I think the last time that we lost our accreditation, we still were able to (get services)," she said. "(But) if we decide that we're not going to work on getting our accreditation back, I'm not sure (Oxford will continue to have access)."

To Bossardet, who was part of a group that worked long and hard to get Oxford in the Main Street program, the loss of accreditation is more of a significant blow to the community in terms of the intangible benefits.

"I think that Main Street is a valuable tool in keeping our downtown revitalized and continuing that momentum," she said. "There are many aspects of Main Street that I believe strongly in."

"But people have to buy into that concept," Bossardet noted. "They have to buy into wanting to be Main Street and the things that it offers. The intangibles that it offers."

When asked to list those "intangibles," Bossardet replied, "I can't tell you what those intangibles are."

"They're feelings that people have," she explained. "They're hometown feelings. They're warm, fuzzy feelings. They're community feelings."

"There's a reason people want to come to Oxford and live in Oxford and want to do things in Oxford," Bossardet continued. "If you lose that intangible, then they will seek out other areas or other places to go to."

Bossardet acknowledged that Oxford can still have festivals and events, still keep the streets clean and still have successful businesses without Main Street accreditation.

"Right now, the restaurants and the bars are very busy," she said.

But Bossardet fears things could change "if everybody continues to do their own little, individual thing" and there's no common vision or cooperation to achieve shared goals.

"Then some things will fall by the wayside," she said.

In order to sustain the momentum of a successful downtown and continue utilizing the lessons learned from the Main Street program, Bossardet said people need to get involved.

"We need people to step forward to do things," she said. "It can't just be this little handful of people that continue to carry it on. Everybody, including the merchants, needs to get on board and keep this up."

Bossardet described Main Street as "an image that you present" to the world.

"It's hard to do that when not everybody buys into the concept," she said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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