EDC pleased with business growth


June 4, 2021

IRONWOOD — The Memorial Day weekend offered a glimpse of a city emerging from a pandemic and excited to be open again in time for the summer, according to members of the Ironwood Economic Development Corporation at their Thursday meeting. 

John Wyssling, EDC chair, said Memorial Day weekend was interesting with new and existing businesses opening downtown. He was providing a tour for a group from Chicago and said they were impressed. 

“They enjoyed the new park (downtown city square) and seeing the businesses open and the new places,” Wyssling said. “Everyone put on a good face and there was good feedback…that shows that we are starting to step up to the plate with our downtown.”

Gina Thorsen, EDC member, said she was impressed by the renovations at some of the downtown businesses. There are updated restaurant menus and a lot more happening to make downtown an exciting place to be, she said.

“I thought it was great to see people out,” Thorsen said. “I just think it is really great to see new stuff happening and I agree that it will be great to have First Friday this week and hopefully seeing more people out. It feels like all of us are emerging from this cocoon and it is welcomed.”

In his reports to the EDC, Tom Bergman, director of city community development, provided an overview of the Redevelopment Ready Communities program application for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The city is transitioning its application from the original certification process to the new “RRC 2.0” process — which will provide the option of continuing on with the original certification path or transitioning to the “Essentials” program, a streamlined path with more limited MEDC resources.

“We are currently defining where we are from the RRC perspective in terms of the conversion process,” Bergman said. 

The path process depends somewhat on the city zoning ordinance revision, he said. The zoning document is in line with the master plan which is part of the comprehensive plan and together will outline the RRC path that is adequate for the MEDC program.

The zoning ordinance revision has been in progress for several months and a draft version is anticipated to be completed this week and ready to distribute to the city boards and commissions for review by the end of June. 

The goal in order to be consistent with RRC guidelines is to be more accessible and user friendly, Bergman said. The current ordinance is accessible online and should be more user friendly for people who need to understand the information for their applications and city business.

Some of the major changes to the zoning ordinance need consultation from third party professionals. These areas include more concentrated commercial development for new locations, lighter restrictions on housing including secondary housing units within the residential district — such as additional dwelling units on properties where primary housing already exists.

The zoning ordinance includes flexible parking requirements already but there will be changes for residential and commercial uses, he said. Another area with substantial change includes standards for green infrastructure.

“That is something we will see a lot in terms of boulevard development,” Bergman said.  

Wyssling was concerned with the proposed changes to the site plan and review process that allows city staff to approve technical aspects without  planning commission authorization. Bergman said the intent is to streamline the process by having the city engineer, community development office and the city manager review and approve technical requirements but that the planning commission would continue to review and approve conditional use permits. 

“There are going to be certain types of site plans that are going to be administratively reviewed rather than having to push all site plans through the planning commission which will hopefully streamline the process quite a bit,” Bergman said. 

Wyssling said that he recalled that was the practice several years ago when the city, under a different city manager and community development director, were not informing the boards of what was going on and that it was frustrating and the board felt its authority was circumvented.

“We need to keep the planning commission in the approval authority process as much as possible,” Wyssling said. “It is important for checks and balances.”

Bergman said the language concerning administrative approval will be provided to the boards for review and feedback.

Other MEDC recommendations to the city administrative processes that are being incorporated include an improved online fee payments system; online reports and survey systems, online tracking of the planning commission review process and permit applications, a formalized board recruitment, appointment and training process.

“This is why the RRC process has taken so long and why the zoning ordinance is the crucial piece,” Bergman said.

Bergman said that he is requesting that a marketing specialist with Kwik Trip Inc., the company that is building a fueling station and store in Ironwood, to speak to the city’s hospitality industry. The specialist provides these trainings and they appear to be very informative about the company culture of service. 

Thorsen said the company has an excellent corporate culture. The standards of service are consistent across all of the stores and that a presentation would be welcomed.

In his report on the adult-use marijuana establishments license application update, Bergman said the city commission and planning commission have tentatively scheduled a June 24  combined meeting to review the scoring rubrics of the competitive process. The applicants that have successfully completed the site plan and conditional use reviews with the planning commission will be ranked at the meeting to determine the top two applicants in each category of licensure.

The top applicants will get a preliminary approval letter in order for them to start their development process, he said. The city license would still be contingent upon approval of a state license and satisfying other city requirements. 

The board will start its meeting in person again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 7 meeting at the Memorial Building auditorium. 


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