Thursday, March 24, 2011

Community leaders got together last week for the second Downtown Summit

Downtown Summit spurs dialogue between St. Clair County communities

Community leaders got together last week for the second Downtown Summit at the Algonac High School conference room. More than 30 participants representing 10 cities and townships hugging the blue waterways of St. Clair County filed in for the second of three meetings.

The first summit last month, held in Marine City, was spent discussing ways each community is dealing with getting outside dollars into their town. Dialogue centered on drawing tourists and businesses into their town.

Randy Maiers of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, St. Clair Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jody Skonieczny and Blue Water Area Convention led the interactive session.

Maiers began the meeting by applauding Gov. Rick Snyder for approving the funding for the Pure Michigan campaign. He then shared some surprising statistics.

"The Discover the Blue part of the Pure Michigan campaign is the third most popular search in the state of Michigan," he said. "In the state of Michigan search, it is the top three in the whole country. So Discover the Blue is only behind Mackinac Island and Traverse City. We beat Frankenmuth, we beat Holland, Ann Arbor we beat every other area in the state of Michigan."

Dan Casey, newly-hired CEO of the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County, was in attendance. Case was not able to attend the first summit. When the discussion turned to facade and rental rehabilitation programs for traditional downtowns, Casey spoke about the "dark spaces" upstairs that could be turned into great living spaces. He offered services through the EDA that could help communities get a good start or continue to grow their programs.

"We would like to work with these communities to develop these programs," said Casey. "We have an established, model program that we'll tailor to your specific needs. We can also manage the program for you if that's what you need."

Maiers said the summit meetings were intended to work with the EDA Where Blue Meets Green campaign, which is more focused on economic issues in Port Huron.

"We decided to take a brand new track out of the plan and talk about the rest of the downtowns and develop a new game plan for going forward in 2011 for those downtowns," he said.

Maier contributed an idea that was explored for the rest of the meeting. Continued...
St. Clair County Commissioner Bill Gratopp shares his views during the second Downtown Summit in
"Traditionally, our downtowns have not yet realized what's good for Algonac is good for Marine City and what's good for Marine City is good for St. Clair," he said.

Skonieczny built on the idea after addressing some of the top voted priorities for the small towns: small business incentives, special events and facade grants.

Then she shared a personal reality that she guessed was shared by many in that room.

"We have a lot of traffic going through my office, particularly in the summer," she said. "They're asking, 'what's there to do for the day?' or 'we're staying at the St. Clair Inn, but we want to see what the surrounding areas have.' It dawned on me yesterday that if somebody said, 'What is there to do in Algonac?' I could tell them some of the great restaurants; I could probably tell them about Algonac State Park, but I don't know that much and that's really unfortunate and that's my fault."

Skonieczny suggested they may need a "Be a tourist in your own region" program instituted to have those answers readily available.

"So if I want to send folks south to spend the day, what do you guys want them to see; what is the story you want me, in St. Clair, to be telling about your community?" she said. "That's an area that we can work together."

An April 12 meeting at 8:30 a.m. is planned, but the location has yet to be determined. Each meeting builds on the next one, but first-timers are still welcome to come. For more information on the summit meetings, go to

Contact Jeri Packer at (586) 716-8100, ext. 302 or

Lisa Ekanger Your Hometown Realtor & Community Leader!

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