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'We want to be more transparent'

DDA presents overview of efforts to improve downtown Lake Orion

The holiday decorations covering the village's lamp posts are just one of the DDA's many ongoing projects. Photo by Gabriel L. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
December 22, 2010 - The decorations downtown, renovations done in the village, the Farmer's Market, and even the tree lighting ceremony have all been planned and orchestrated by the same people.

It's all the work of the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

Yet while the DDA has done a great deal to spruce up the downtown area, they have orchestrated a number of other projects that are less obvious.

To help explain what was going on at the DDA and why it was happening, DDA officials gave a presentation to the Lake Orion Village Council on Tuesday, Dec. 14. Lake Orion DDA Executive Director, Suzanne Perreault, detailed to the council what the DDA had done, what it was doing, what it was planning, and how they were solving some of the DDA's current problems.

"I'm coming up on my one year anniversary at the DDA, and one of the problems I saw when I first started was a major lack of communication between the Village Council and the DDA," said Perreault. "We want to be more transparent on our projects, get support for those projects, and overall just explain where the tax dollars are going."

Perreault, assisted by DDA Chairperson Debbie Burgess, proceeded to show the council some of the accomplishments that the authority was able to realize over the past six months.

The presentation was divided into four categories; One section for each of the DDA's planning committees.

First up was the Organization Committee, which was responsible for creating better communication with the public and the council, building a volunteer base, and fundraising while looking for alternative sources of revenue for their projects. Some of their accomplishments and goals include The "Dragon on the Lake Pancake Breakfast," which raised approximately $500 for the DDA and the Orion Art Center, the creation of the "Buy-a-Brick" program which helped fundraise while providing renovations for the Children's Park, and the current updating of the DDA website for clarity while garnering more volunteers.

The Design Committee was up next, beginning by explaining that the basic goals were to beautify the downtown, renovate the parks, integrate the township trail system with the downtown area, create more parking areas, and improve buildings in the village.

The downtown beautification has already been underway, beginning with hanging flower baskets during the summer and continuing with the Christmas decorations seen currently downtown. They have also been responsible for renovating signs around the village, including the sign at the entrance to downtown at S. Broadway Street and Lapeer. They emphasized the theme of performing these projects cheaply and efficiently.

"Last year, the sign [at the entrance to downtown] was just a four by four frame with no paint and just a really basic design," said Perreault. "For about 50 bucks, we got a new sign made, painted it up, planted some [flowers], and put some wood chips around it, all at a very low cost."

Perreault also mentioned some of the projects that are planned for the future such as the purchasing of empty land for parking spaces and an effort to reduce unsightly garbage bag piles on trash pickup day.

"We're paying off some of the areas planned for public parking including 51 N. Broadway and we also leased two current parking lots for public use," said Perreault. "We've also been doing some 'trash talking' to help get some public dumpsters installed around town, screening them with decorative brick, and hopefully getting people to use those instead of setting their trash on the sidewalk during pickup day.

"We'd also like to get a new sign for the DDA building because a lot of people don't know where it is."

Perreault then went on to mention the projects from the Economic Restructuring Committee. She said that while the other two committees have seen startling success, this committee was relatively behind in terms of funding and support from the community. Some of the reasons for this appear to be that in comparison, the goals from this part of the DDA are "not as interesting."

Yet some of this committee's accomplishments have been notable, including the introduction of the Lake Orion Farmer's Market and business recruitment packages. Their future projects are not only aimed at getting Lake Orion residents into downtown to shop, but attracting new businesses to diversify what can be bought in downtown. As part of this committee, the DDA plans to offer programs to retain business, put up advertisement signs in vacant lots, provide a shopping guide to the public, and offer what other communities have called a property tour.

"A lot of communities in Oakland County have started doing this, like Pontiac, Farmington Hills, and Rochester," said Perreault. "[Property owners] basically have an evening where they're all in their buildings, and interested buyers can go to each property and inspect it and get information on it.

"It's basically like an open house for property buyers."

Perreault estimates that there are anywhere from ten to twelve properties available in the downtown area.

The final committee section was the Promotions Committee, whose main goal is the attraction of visitors to the downtown area. Events like the Spring Flower Fair, Dog Days of August, and the current holiday themed promotions like the tree lighting ceremony have all been orchestrated as a means to attract visitors to the village. Perreault pointed out the revenue generated by these events paid for themselves, providing a budget for the events schedule for the Village Council.

After wrapping up, the council seemed enthusiastic, with Village Council President Ken Van Portfliet thanking and congratulating Perreault for her enthusiasm, honesty, and thoroughness.

The next DDA presentation will happen in April of 2011.

For more information on the Village of Lake Orion's DDA, visit the building at 51 N. Broadway, or visit downtownlakeorion.org.

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