DIDA looks to update downtown blueprint


November 22, 2019



Ironwood — The Downtown Ironwood Development Authority on Thursday started the discussion of developing a downtown comprehensive plan.

The First Impressions program of Michigan State University Extension, where visitors reported on observations and experiences after visiting the city, is an opportunity to list ideas to prioritize in a comprehensive blueprint plan, said Tom Bergman, director of the Ironwood Community Development office. The downtown plan would be consistent with the city comprehensive plan.

First Impressions and other studies show a need for signage and beautification of gateway roads to downtown, and developing a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly environment, and an alleyway improvement plan, he said. It also shows the need for a tax increment financing district that uses funds to improve key areas, he said.

Bessemer has success with its TIF district with things like the small business Pop-Up Shop program, he said. The program helps a small business owner with rent or other approved costs over the first six months.

“This is an incentive,” Bergman said.

TIF programs could also incentivize property owners to reduce rental rates with in exchange for another aspect such as building rehabilitation, he said. Downtown park amenities, increased hours of business operation, outdoor recreation, eco-tourism, historical and cultural portfolios all need to be better utilized and marketed, he said.

Mayor Annette Burchell, a DIDA member, said a regional nonprofit entity targeting arts and culture would help address some priorities. The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs is assisting in this collaboration, she said.

Nancy Korpela, DIDA member, said the city planning commission is working on a master art plan. The work includes discussions with MCACA and other Upper Peninsula regional arts organizations.

Ivan Hellen, DIDA member, said that an art and history committee collaboration resulted in the mining mural projects downtown. A mural process would work again to beautify sites identified in need of beautification, he said.

Hellen said he is also interested in developing a guided and a self-guided city walking tour that uses interpretive signage and enlarged photographs at various locations to give people a better perspective of historic Ironwood.

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Bergman said improving public land on the Montreal River is also a priority. The former gas plant site in the flood plain cannot could become recreational space, he said.

Kathy Flory, DIDA member, said that it might be possible to turn a negative comment from a First Impressions visitor who overheard a derogatory comment about gay people, into something positive by creating an event.

“We could do something to make the area feel more inclusive,” Flory said. “How do we address that? Have we ever considered having a gay pride parade and getting the business owners to speak out and take part instead of pushing it under the bridge and pretending it’s not happening?”

Bergman said that future First Friday events could also be more inclusive of First Nation peoples by talking to the area tribes and inviting them to hold downtown performances. The summer arts and music series could also bring in more diversity, he said.

“Creating positive attitudes takes work,” said Amy Nosal, DIDA member.

Hellen said diversity starts in the work place where everyone needs to be treated equally and made to feel comfortable.

“This is what needs to be done all over,” Hellen said.

In the city City Square project update, Bergman said the request for qualifications deadline is approaching and the engineering phase will start soon. Despite some unexpected delays a 2020 construction phase is still possible depending on the engineering report, he said.

In the downtown snow removal report, DIDA member Nancy Zak said that many downtown businesses are using the same contractor for snow removal. The contractor is receptive to a block contract for all business owners along one street and would present a bid so the store owners can consider the shared cost agreement, she said.

In his report, Bergman said he is discussing several topics including succession planning with the Michigan Small Business Development Center.

The DIDA members changed the December regular meeting to 8 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 19 at the Memorial Building, 213 S. Marquette St.


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