Source: Sherman Publications

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Clarkston champion needed
Leaders launch combined project

by Andrea Beaudoin

July 24, 2013

Local leaders want downtown Clarkston to join a county-wide Main Street improvement program.

Clarkston leaders, Main Street Oakland County (MSOC) representatives and Springfield Township Supervisor Collin Walls attended a July 11 meeting at Clarkston City Hall on steps needed to join and what the program offers communities.

MSOC aims to improve downtown areas by providing training, funding, planning, and other incentives. Main Street reps said all Clarkston needs is a group of "champions" to spearhead the program. Oakland County Main Street Principal Planner Bob Donohue called downtown Clarkston the "heart of the community," and said the focus in Clarkston will be on historical preservation and improving downtown.

"Clarkston has some great buildings and if you don't respect them, you lose them forever," said Oakland County Downtown Development Associate Planner Alex Hritcu.

MSOC offers communities involved in the program offers design services, planning, historic preservation and many financial incentives.

Communities usually form a non- profit group and raise between $35,000 and 75,000 to get the program started. The money will come back above the initial investment through incentives and program benefits, Donohue said.

Clarkston Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Penny Shanks said the chamber was willing to spearhead the program.

"The chamber is in a unique position we have dedicated staff, and facilities for meetings," said Shanks. "We also work with businesses and have a good relationship with the community. We also know how to work with volunteers and can write grants and raise money."

Bret Rasegan said local business owner and city council member Peg Roth called him to join the effort.

"I am ready to be that champion," said Roth.

Rasegan said the city needs several groups dedicated to working together to lead the way.

"It needs to be business and residents in the group," said Rasegan. He added that the chamber is a good partner in the efforts and 12-15 really dedicated people are needed to manage the group.

City Manager Carol Eberhardt worries how the Independence Township would be included in the program. She also expressed concern about a lack of retail downtown-due to excess commercial business-and wondered how the program could help improve the issue.

Eberhardt said there was a shift from retail to commercial business in downtown Clarkston in the 80's.

"There used to be 34 businesses and then at some point it switched to more commercial," she said. "There is a big problem here and that is that we don't have enough retail."

MSOC said that is one of the ways the program can help.

Walls said he also wants to partner with Clarkston and revitalize downtown Davisburg.

Donohue said joining the program can really make a difference both Clarkston and Davisburg downtown areas by implementing proven principals offered by MSOC.

MSOC honors eight principals to improve downtowns areas and enacting positive image changes. While focusing on historical preservation, the eight principals are combined with a four-point approach focusing on organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring events and projects.

Created in 2000 by long time Executive L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County became the first county in America to join a nationwide main street program focused on economic development and historic preservation.

The program is available to all 32 historic downtown communities in Oakland County. Eighteen are in the program, with 12 of those full service members.

Gene Carlson, chairman of Downtown Development Authority for Lake Orion, said being a part of MSOC provides a variety of benefits.

"They help with advice, preservation and networking," Carlson said. "They also help us operate more effectively, and give us a lot of recognition for out projects."

Clarkston joined on the associate level and can remain in that category for up to four years. To preserve their member status, associate level communities attend workshops, conferences, and training, while creating community events and preserving downtown.

An upcoming meeting to discuss the next step will be in August.