(Drew Saunders, May 14, 2017)
Pontiac, MI – County leaders and business people strode across the stage of Pontiac’s Flagstar Strand Theater for the Performing Arts for the seventeenth annual Oakland County Main Event Awards, last Thursday evening.
“This year the award ceremony is different,” Main Street Oakland County Program Coordinator John Bry said. “There are cash sponsors for two categories, which [is] something that they’ve never had before.”
There was a grand total of 15 categories. Highland’s Cassie Blasyck won Board Member of the Year. Farmington’s Brian Golden and Lake Orion’s Scott Reynolds both won Volunteer of the Year. The Landmark Preservation Award went to Pontiac and the very theater the ceremony was being held in.
But one of the new categories was “Window On Main.” Main street businesses were asked to create different store front displays to demonstrate civic pride and creativity. Seven communities across the county were competing for the $1,500 award.
Five communities were competing for “Spirit On Main Street.” In this competition, each community was asked to make a non-professional video about what makes their downtown unique, fun and a great place to do business. The Lake Orion DDA walked away with $2,000 for their video.
The categories are judged by individuals from outside the county. Judges which, according to Planning Manager Bret Rasegan, have “various expertise in architecture, historic preservation, marketing, design and planning” to judge, along with the criteria provided by the county.
There were several hundred attendees from across the county. Including John Young, from Oakland University’s marketing department and as Vice-Chair of the newly-formed Auburn Hills DDA.
Young says Oakland’s DDA was formed to figure out how to get people coming off of work to stop and eat or shop in downtown instead of taking highly-trafficked freeways. As a new member, they were not up for an award, but were there as a fact finding exercise. Part of the point of these award ceremonies is to allow city governments to swap ideas.
Pontiac was represented by Christian Marcillo of Main Street Pontiac. While he touted the success of downtown and the county’s program, when asked if that translated to benefit across the city’s neighborhoods, demographics and income levels he said “No, because of the Woodward redevelopment. Right now, downtown is disconnected from our neighbors. We’re working on fixing that.”
Fixing that, Marcillo says, will include a workforce development piece to create well paid and lasting jobs downtown.
“That is because in Pontiac our largest percentage of population leaves town to drive over an hour to get a low paying job. So, as we look at the businesses we are attracting, we are looking for those that will also provide employment opportunities for our labor force, here in the community,” Marcillo added.
Among the other winners, Brett and Kyle Westberg of West Construction Services were awarded the “Game Changer” Award for their work on the Strand Theatre. Jerry Walker of Holly was given “Local Leader of the Year.” And Ferndale was given “On a Shoestring” Award for their Putting Art in Smart project which made an ordinary bus stop look spectacular.
Also from Ferndale, The Rust Belt Market’s proprietors won Business Owners of the Year. Chris Best shared his sentiments on Facebook after accepting the award, referring to co-owner and wife Tiffany and his son Brody who shared in the pride of winning. “So Tiffany and I won for Oakland County business owners of the year in front of politicians and fellow entrepreneurs. I was so glad Brody powered through all the adult/boring chatter and social contracts to see me accept it on stage. I was very proud of my State trooper father growing up. I know what that feels like to see your dad as a hero. I hope Brody sees me the same. It’s been a challenging six years with this Rust Belt experiment. Thank you to the Ferndale DDA for nominating us and allowing me this moment with my son.”
County Executive L. Brooks Patterson started Main Street Oakland in 2000, after meeting with the National Main Street Association – a non-profit national organization to promote the revitalization of downtown’s across the country. Since being founded in 1980, the organization claims to have created over $65 billion in investment in 2,000 communities across the country.
States and communities across the national have downtown organizations of one sort or another – usually to promote the economic redevelopment or to increase residential occupancy in historic centers. Oakland, however, is the first, and so far only, county in the country to have a county-wide approach. There are 24 communities in the Oakland Main Street association.
“The biggest advantage is, literally, the geography,” Rasegan said. “We cover a 900 square mile county. That’s a large county. But we [the county government] are still within 15 or 20 minutes of all our downtowns. So we can easily go out and give assistance. And it makes it easier for those downtowns to come to training, because the travel time isn’t bad.”
According to county statistics, this program has added 7,085 new jobs, nearly a thousand new businesses and $706,501,619 in a mix of public and private investment in the county as of 2015 (the last year where statistics are available). Private sector investment has accounted for nearly $477 million of that, according to the county.
Rasegan estimated that about $34 million of economic development was added to the county this year, from both public and private investment. Official statistics will be announced June 8, at the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester.
Learn more about Main Street Oakland County at https://www.oakgov.com/edca/planning/main-street/Pages/default.aspx.