Marketplace tops Esky DDA efforts in 2017

ESCANABA — The completion of Escanaba’s new marketplace and five store front remodels were among the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) accomplishments in 2017, according to an end-of-the-year report presented at the board’s monthly meeting at city hall Thursday.

The report included the DDA’s performance in 2017, as well as its goals for the new calendar year as presented by DDA Director Ed Legault. Board members approved the document and also okayed the authority’s tentative budget recommendations for the upcoming 2018-2019 fiscal year.

In addition to the five facade projects that are officially wrapping up, another seven businesses were selected in 2017 to have their business fronts upgraded in 2018. Project drawings and cost estimates will be submitted for the grant process with construction expected to begin this summer, said Legault.

Property owners provide half the project’s cost which is matched with grant funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a partnership that has been on-going since 2006. The purpose of the facade program is to make the store fronts look better downtown as well as improve each building’s structure and restore each property’s historical character.

Other significant developments the DDA was involved in 2017 included the city’s certification as a Redevelopment Ready Community, the director’s participation in meetings and events, and DDA-sponsored events.

Last year, the DDA supported the annual downtown sidewalk sales, the Christmas tree lighting, the Christmas parade, Rock the Dock, and the downtown cleanup project, said Legault, noting the DDA will continue to support these activities in 2018.

The authority’s other goals for the current year include continuing to work on the facade projects, promoting the use of the new marketplace, repairing the center court office building roof, upgrading the court yard’s lighting, patching downtown parking lots, and prioritizing future development projects in the downtown.

During discussion of 2018 objectives, DDA members voted to move forward to complete the lengthy condemnation process on blighted property at 910 Ludington Street, which may have to be demolished due to safety concerns.

Legault said searching for grant opportunities is “incredibly important” to help fund the DDA’s

projects in 2018. Grants will also be sought for technical assistance, professional services, and training, he added.

Prior to discussing the end-of-the-year report, DDA members approved a proposed $228,805 budget for the 2018-2019 year to be included in the city’s general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Legault updated the board on several budget reductions being made to conform to a deficit elimination plan the DDA was forced to develop for the next five years. Because an internal loan received from the city to help pay for the construction of the new marketplace cannot be considered as revenue in the DDA’s budget, the DDA’s 2016-2017 finances showed a $340,327 deficit at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2017. The DDA was required to file a deficit elimination plan with the Michigan Department of Treasury which was approved by council last week.

The DDA plans to save money during the 2018-2019 fiscal year by reducing supplies, travel expenses, printing and publishing costs, sidewalk and curb repairs, and insurance expenses, explained Legault. No funds will be provided for the city’s annual marina fest, he added.

Board members discussed pros and cons regarding $10,000 in the budget earmarked for downtown police patrol which is charged at an overtime rate. While the DDA encourages the police presence downtown, concerns were expressed about the cost to the tight budget.

Legault said he will invite Escanaba Public Safety Director Rob LaMarche to discuss the issue with the DDA board at an upcoming meeting.

The DDA’s annual report, 2018 goals, and proposed 2018-2019 budget will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net