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Ironwood considers winter visitor study


November 4, 2019


Ironwood — As city committees and staff continue to review information from a recent “First Impressions” report, officials said it’s possible that Ironwood may be part of a first-ever winter visitor study.

The First Impressions study is conducted by Michigan State University’s Extension Community, Food and Environment Institute, and looks at community food systems, entrepreneurship, finance and homeownership, government and public policy, land use, leadership, natural resource management and tourism. Ironwood underwent the tourism portion of the study this past summer and results were recently made available to the city.

Tim Erickson, community development specialist for the city of Ironwood, said that the city, along with Iron County, Michigan, were the only two Upper Peninsula communities involved in the study for 2019. Erickson, along with Amber Hollenbeck, city community development marketing strategist, and Tom Bergman, community development director, are continuing the conversation with Will Cronin, Tourism and Community Development educator for MSU Extension, about possibly making Ironwood its first winter assessment.

One visitor in the report responded to the question, “Would you return to Ironwood?” with “Yes, When there’s snow!”

“We talked about doing the community winter assessment as an option and there seems to be interest,” Erickson said. “A lot of the tourism study is focused on the summer but that is only half of it, and the other half is winter and that is a whole different feel. We’d like to know what that impression is as well and how the summer and winter experience relates together for Ironwood.”

MSU Extension so far has reached out to Ironwood and recommended using the summer First Impressions report to supplement grant applications for funding and training to accomplish the goals of the city’s plans, he said.

According to a recent presentation by Bergman, the visitor report had MSU Extension, staff, three male and two female visitors including two millennial, two Generation X, and one Baby Boom generation who visited between mid-July and early September. All stayed overnight and spent at least 24 hours in the community either alone, with a spouse or partner, or with family.

The report said visitors used online travel sources and social media to look up attractions and events and to get a “feel for the area.” They complemented the city and Ironwood Area Chamber of Commerce websites as excellent sources with information and useful links.

“The purpose was really to give a community an idea of how outsiders see the community to help base future decisions,” Bergman said.

The goal of the report is not to make tourism the centerpiece of development but to consider the impressions as a factor in creating a place that does a better job of retaining and attracting new people, families and businesses to the community, Bergman said.

The visitors were impressed with the downtown area and how it’s maintained its historical charm as a former mining community, he said. The visitors were impressed with existing green space such as the Pocket Park and Depot Park and would have liked to see path or park access to the Montreal River.

Bergman said parks or other access will now be possible as privately owned properties in the flood plain can no longer sell to private ownership, he said.

Erickson said the purpose of the assessment is to help identify assets and opportunities to build on Ironwood’s sense of place, to include historical character, recreational amenities, downtown and other business districts and residential neighborhoods. The report has been a validation of the work to create the latest Land Use and Transportation System planning, he said.

As reported previously, the one urgent message from the visitor report was that U.S. 2/Cloverland Drive through Ironwood served to discourage motorists from stopping. The signage directing motorists to the U.S. 2/Douglas Boulevard business corridor to downtown was hard to see with small lettering and contained too much information or was confusing, the report said.

Signage had already been an issue and the Ironwood City Commission on Sept. 28 approved Bergman’s request to prepare a request for bids announcement for new gateway signage that will more clearly direct people to downtown from the corner of U.S. 2 (Cloverland) and Douglas Boulevard.

The city also approved Bergman’s request for completing operating agreements with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Department of Transportation for placement of two gateway entrance sign monuments on the west and east side of Ironwood on U.S. 2. The east monument would be on the south side of U.S. 2, just west of the Industrial Park entrance, while the west sign would be located at the Michigan Welcome Center.

“That has always been the plan to do that but (the First Impressions report) pushed it forward quicker,” Erickson said.

As for the business route to downtown, Erickson said the visitors confirmed what most already believed, that once people were downtown they found it a welcoming place with a lot of amenities. But the signage and the route to downtown was not appealing and gives a negative first impression, he said.

“This is a validation in that we were already involved in a project that is going to be sprucing that up a little bit more,” Erickson said. “Some things are in the works and we are going about this in the right way.”

Current plans are for aesthetic street lighting and flowers, mini grants for business and home facades improvements along the route and some landscaping, he said.

As for the impression of Ironwood along U.S. 2 that is largely the result of how corridor layouts were planned fifty years ago in the golden age of the automobile, he said. Roads like Cloverland were known as “The Strip,” and zoning ordinances were typical for this sort of suburban layout, he said.

“That was never really designed with aesthetics in mind or any mode of transportation other than car,” Erickson said. “The city is going through a zoning ordinance revision and it will include design elements and construction requirements for new developments to spruce it up.”

There was a lot of work recently to improve U.S. 2 but it’s still a very wide and very fast road, he said. Future development may be to convince the state to slow down traffic a bit to encourage people to look at the surroundings more and maybe head downtown.

Visitors felt the city is car-centric, he said. Ironwood relies on tourism as an economic driver and roads are important to reaching popular sites such as Copper Peak, Black River Country and the ski hills outside of town but also about the SISU Ski Fest and the downtown events.

Visitor comments were that they were also sensitive to negative comments that give an idea of negative perceptions that locals have about their community, he said. This can have a negative impact on visitors to the community and has the potential of affecting repeat visitors and overall tourism, he said.

Tourism is directly related to attracting future residents and businesses to the community, he said. Tourism information is a large part of the city’s marketing materials.


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