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Downtown Dave – Main Street Meritt

This year’s holiday season in downtown Three Rivers got off to a good start. We held a well-attended Christmas Around Town with a full range of activities for the families who came out. Between Meritt’s hard work, our calls to action, and the work of others, more people are starting to step to the plate and help make our events happen. In addition, the corporate community in Three Rivers is starting to show significant support for our work on Main Street. American Axle, Armstrong, and the Three Rivers Area Community Foundation have all made four- and five-figure contributions to our work, and we’re grateful: as dollars and volunteer hours add up, we’ll get more done.

A good strategy will also make a critical difference. If you’ve been following along, you may know that we’ve been working with Michigan Main Street to develop a strategy for targeting our dollars, our volunteer hours, and our business development efforts in specific ways that will help make our downtown revitalization work as effective as possible. Early on, we picked a theme to serve as a basis for that, based on what is here now: arts and entertainment, with the iconic Riviera Theatre serving as a fine performance venue, a signature event like HarmonyFest, and several nonprofit institutions contributing to the mix. The library will also help tremendously.

We also recognized that with our rivers and with a thriving community of kayakers, runners, and bicyclists, that outdoor recreational opportunities present the core of our city with some great potential. Then, we looked at our surveys and our market data and realized just how much money people in Three Rivers spend on dining out, and saw how well a good, strong dining mix has helped other communities. Lastly, we observed that when properly told, a community’s stories about its past can create a powerful draw that can tie together a range of activities—such as arts, entertainment, outdoor recreation, and dining.

This coming year, your faithful Executive Director will be working with the DDA board and our volunteers, merchants, and supporters to overhaul our program. We won’t change everything: we’ll keep the events and beautification work that help to support our existing businesses, and that make downtown a unique and special place to be. However, we’ll be exploring new ways to sustain and operate them with a goal in mind: to free up dollars, staff time, and volunteer hours so that we can spend as much time as possible on that targeted strategy of business recruitment. If the mantra that ‘if you build it, they will come’ has any truth, we’ve seen it: our work has attracted some very promising new businesses to our Main Street, and it has generated buzz and momentum. But we also believe in another adage, to ‘strike when the iron is hot,’ and in that view, it is important, now, to move beyond the stage of simply waiting for our work to draw people here. It’s a great time to do something with our momentum.

Going forward, we’ll want to focus our work on venturing out into the world—both among people here and outside the bounds of our fair city—and actively recruiting businesses. Our goal is to put our energy into letting the entrepreneurs out there who do good work in downtown environments like ours know that we are here, that we have exceptional things to offer, and that we’re ready to do business. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Downtown Three Rivers is a success story waiting to happen, and we don’t mind letting others know about it. We have the character-rich, old buildings, the beautiful, surrounding parkland, the arts community, the rivers and potential trails and the people who like to use them, the market data, the thousands of examples of places like ours who have revitalized their Main Streets, and the growing success and momentum of our own to say that we can make it happen here, too.

This holiday season, we’ll be making plans for the new year that we believe will impact our community in a big way, so that as you continue to read this column and follow our progress, we’ll be able to report on more exciting things to come. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and please stay tuned!

Dave Vago is Executive Director of the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Program. He spent summers growing up in Three Rivers, and has worked in the business of making great old places socially and commercially viable. Meritt Dickerson-Weed is the AmeriCorps VISTA service member working to make the Three Rivers Main Street’s volunteer program as effective as possible, and hails from Three Rivers.

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