Funding, Story-Telling, and Putting in the Work All Part of Main Street Summit

(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 5, 2023)

Waterford, MI – Leaders from 24 downtown organizations from across Oakland County gathered for a morning of sharing ideas, talking through challenges, and figuring out how Main Street Oakland County can best assist the downtown programs with their mission of creating thriving community centers.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter kicked the meeting off by welcoming the representatives from places like Pontiac, Holly, Lake Orion, Highland, South Lyon, Hazel Park, Oxford and the town where he was formerly Mayor – Ferndale.  He recalled the work involved in building up the community and helping to shape the Downtown Development Authority there, and applauded those in the room for the work they undoubtedly put in.

“If you’re joining this to put it on your resume, find a different committee because there’s sub committees and there’s groups and there’s metrics, and there’s things you’re going to have to accomplish if you’re on this board,” Coulter said.

Part of that work is meeting and working together regionally.  Oakland County is a coordinating organization that assists member organizations in a variety of ways including resources, grants, sharing information, planning services, data and market research, historical research and preservation support, training, educational opportunities, networking and more.  There are 27 member communities. John Bry, who was recently presented with the 2023 Mary Means Leadership Award from Main Street America, is the Program Director.  He and his team help bring everyone together.

While the organizations may have varying funding structures, budget sizes, and community vibes, there is still much that they have in common.

The need for funding in an obvious commonality. Main Street Organizations exist to make sure that monies brought in through tax captures, grants, donations, and events are used to strengthen downtowns both for the businesses and the residents.  MSOC helps in finding grants, contests, and other funding sources. They also help groups share ideas.  For example at last year’s summit, Downtown Rochester Director Kristi Trevarrow detailed the growth of Downtown Rochester, and how collecting a portion of property taxes to reinvest in incremental changes have led them from a strip of buildings with vacancies to a destination that is recognized nationally.  This year she gave updates of how the organization set up a Rochester-themed shop that not only brings in extra revenue, but boosts community spirit as well.

Another example shared this year came from Downtown Holly, with Director Nicholas Klempp giving an update on recovery efforts after a fire destroyed local businesses.  In this case Main Street Oakland County was able to help Holly with funding opportunities, as well as with historic research and the use of drones to help with damage assessment.

In Oxford, Director Kelly Westbrook reported that 34 businesses have gotten signage grants, which gives business owners something tangible and helpful, while also uplifting the downtown as a whole. She also talked about collaborative efforts with Downtown Lake Orion, just to the south, including shared events and a trolley connecting the two.

Beyond financial needs, Main Street leaders talked about community education about what their organizations do.

Several attendees expressed concern that the public associates DDAs and other Main Street groups with events, without realizing the big picture of what it takes to make a thriving community center.  There are nuances of place-making, streetscapes and maintenance, the integration of modern amenities like electric vehicle charging stations and parking systems, the redevelopment of properties to help shape the community space, education, support for businesses and much more.

From among the crowd of local downtown leaders, a question pointed the way towards a solution.

“How do we tell our story?”

And as social media increases negativity and misinformation, collaborative efforts like Main Street Oakland County are helping organizations find those ways, including with the “Main Event” Awards program, videos that showcase local efforts, and media outreach.

Learn more about Main Street Oakland County at www.oakgov.com.

image_pdfSave this post to PDFimage_printPrint this post