Shared vision: Community, state develop plan

Published 7:30 pm Tuesday, July 13, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The Michigan Main Street Reconnaissance Team wrapped up the first day of itsvisit with a public visioning session to determine the community's goals for the future of downtown Niles.
The team led about 40 concerned community members in an information gathering meeting at city council chambers on Monday evening.
He explained this was an important starting point for Niles that would help set forward a vision statement for the city in years to come.
He asked the citizens four questions and told them to give answers based on what downtown Niles would ideally look like in 2014. Each of the questions corresponded with one of the four points of the Main Street approach: design, economic restructuring, promotions and organization.
The design related question asked the audience what their downtown would physically look like in 10 years.
The community responded with a number of ideas including being pedestrian friendly, having a clean appearance and implementing more greenspace.
Citizens also envisioned a downtown with more artwork, historical restorations and building rehabilitation and other improvements being made to the side streets.
Niles Community Development Director Juan Ganum said he would like to see Niles return to its old nickname of the "Garden City" by 2014.
Niles resident Tracy Leach voiced her concern for a family friendly downtown.
The economic restructuring question asked about the ideal business climate of downtown and what types of businesses would be found there.
Among the ideas put forth by the community were more locally owned businesses, art galleries, a bakery/deli and a small inn.
Niles City Fire Chief Larry Lamb said it would be hard for downtown to compete with places like the mall and Walmart and thinks the city should concentrate on creating a unique niche of businesses that would attract people to the area.
The promotion-based question asked the community what types of activities they would like to see in downtown Niles in the future.
Suggestions included more live entertainment, history-related festivals, an art fair/festival, a return of canoe and kayak races to the St. Joseph River and creating a connection between downtown Niles and the Apple Festival.
The organizational question asked what institutional assets the community would like Niles to have.
Residents envisioned a thriving, self-sufficient downtown that would not have to rely on outside sources for funding.
Niles resident Todd Griffee said the involvement of young people in the planning process would offer a new and different perspective.
After taking notes for nearly an hour and half, the reconnaissance team helped the community define a broad vision statement implementing as many of their suggestions as possible.
Kalogeresis said the team would prepare a cleaned up version of the statement and present it to the Niles Main Street board sometime today.
He thanked the community for their input and said their involvement and concern was an important key to improving downtown Niles.