Source: Sherman Publications

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Guest column - A vision for downtown

December 14, 2011

By Ken Van Portfliet

Lake Orion Village Council President

I love this community. It has something to do with the length of time I've lived here but by far it more has to do with the people. I started coming to Lake Orion 25 years ago to visit and boat on Lake Orion. Before heading out on the lake, I stopped at L&S Market for provisions. People there were friendly, warm and open. I found that true of everyone I met during those times. Each time I visited I felt as though I had made a new friend. The idea sprouted that I might live here someday. It felt right. Lucky us – we found the opportunity and then made the move in 1988. It wasn't just the lake (although that was a stellar bonus). It wasn't just the housing prices (we DID find a great deal). It wasn't just the quaint downtown. But mostly it was the people. We're still surrounded by great Lake Orion people.

Most people I talk to envision the same things I do - a thriving, diverse, busy, entertaining and walkable downtown. We have the walkable portion now. We've flirted with thriving and entertaining. Now we need to get serious. We have been gaining attention and new businesses continue to check out the viable opportunities here. And there are plans to attract more.

One thing that seems to be a stumbling block is finding the right tools to provide incentives to landlords of our downtown commercial buildings. This is a group we need more support from. Façade improvement, interior repair, tenant assistance - these are things that are often blamed on the "absentee landlord", a label we need to somehow transition to an "involved and invested" landlord. Bravo to those who have stepped into committees to help steer policies and decisions. Those voices and hard work are needed!

Friendlier business ordinances, increased building owner communication, community member involvement with village commissions and committees, and an ongoing and intentional reaching out from government entities to both internal and external neighbors will perpetuate a healthy sense of place that is so critical to the health and welfare of our community. We always look for growth, but first we look to make sure we have the elements in place that will support a healthy community. We have a beautiful downtown now. If we maintain the core elements of what has made Lake Orion a unique and friendly place to live, we can attract new entertainment, create a balance of businesses and thrive.

Sometimes I think of the people who helped forge this community. The village's identity is shaped by these throngs of volunteers who over the years have given hundreds of hours because they love where they live. I have met many of these people and many have become friends. I look at where we are today and imagine where we will be tomorrow. I usually come to the same conclusions. It will be everything that a concerned community wishes it to be. We need everyone to consider this and then, more importantly, to participate to this end.