More Main Street changes will continue to improve downtown Niles

Published 10:43 pm Friday, April 22, 2005

By By ERIN VER BERKMOES / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Since joining the Michigan Main Street program a year ago there have been many changes in the downtown area. A resource team from the Main Street program presented a report to the community Thursday at the Bell Building about what they think still needs to be done here in Niles.
The team presented a preliminary report to about 25 members of the community, but will be sending the full report to the Niles Main Street board in about a month.
Kalogeresis started off by explaining the four point approach that the Main Street program uses to guide the process.
The first point is organization, meaning that one needs to be started to bring the community together to work on this large project.
The second point is what do you want the finished product to look like - its design.
Third is economic restructuring, which is how to get the economy of Niles back on track.
Finally, the fourth point is promotions and marketing, meaning what things can you do to get people to notice your downtown and make them want to spend time and money there.
Kalogeresis then talked about the things he feels the Downtown Development Association-Main Street organizations need to do to take their group to the next step.
Create a strategic work plan: What does the organization want to see the finished product look like, what work needs to be done, when does it need to be done, where and by whom?
Adopt a vision statement: This will give the organization a benchmark of where they would like to see things in five, 10 or even 15 years. It helps to keep things on track.
Board development: Get the DDA-Main Street groups to be a working board, get them to give a higher level of commitment, which will help with recruiting volunteers and other community members to work on the project.
Fundraise: Resources need to be built up. The group should really push forward to get the community more involved in this project. Fundraising is one of the ways to get the word about the program.
Aggressive public relations campaign: Do some things to really get the word out to the community about the project. Create a newsletter that can be given out to the whole community.
Volunteer recruitment: Aggressively go out and recruit members of the community to participate in the activities, so that the current volunteers don't get burned out.
Public Relations/
Kristi Trevarrow who is a marketing consultant has worked with many cities and groups to create public relations campaigns for their Main Street projects.
Develop an image: The group needs to create some sort of logo or identity for itself, one that when people see it they think of the DDA-Main Street project and want to know more about it. "We want to invoke a feeling and get people to notice Niles and think that they should be here for some reason," she said.
Downtown business directory: This should be created so that members of the community and outsiders coming in know what types of businesses Niles offers. This is a piece they will keep and remind them of what is here. It can also contain an events calendar and will make it easier for people to shop.
Tourism: How can we bring people to Niles? Create a user friendly website with many facts about what Niles has to offer on it. Put things like the business directory and calender on it, incorporate all the elements of the Main Street program to attract people here.
Economic Restructuring
Dan Carmody from Rock Island Renaissance in Rock Island, Ill. gave his thoughts on how the area could be restructured economically.
Carmody went on to say that while their are good things here, there are also some bad things such as a high under occupancy rate, a weak rental market, some week adjacent neighborhoods, and a continuing loss of market share.
Economic region: Think of the downtown area as its own economic area and what can be done to increase the economy in the area.
Knowledge: Get to know the business that you currently have in the area, and then that will better help you to head in the right direction and to recruit the right kind of new businesses.
Business development: Offer business development sessions for the current businesses that are in the area, with ideas on how to attract more business to the area.
Business clusters: Develop existing clusters, such as the hospitality and others that you have in the area, so that Niles can be marketed as having a particular niche.
Development of real estate: More of the real estate in the downtown area, especially the second stories of the buildings, can attract more business, as well as residents.
Anthony Rubano of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency headed this portion of the presentation.
Rubano added that there are good things in the community that can be used to foster ideas for design in the area. "Some of positives are: the location is good, getting rid of 'slip covers,' a sense of history with the Four Flags, and a diversity here," he said.
Work plans: Put down on paper a plan of what the organization would like to see done with this project. It will help to reach the goal faster.
Foster a preservation ethic: Create a ethic to be followed by everyone that will keep people on the same page and create a sense of continuity, but still individuality.
Attention to detail: Pay attention to the details, such as windows, facades, and signs. These things can make a difference in the process, just as much as the inside does. If the buildings look good then they can attract people to the area.
Promote resources: There are many things in the area that are unique and will help to create an identity for Niles.
Parking study: In order to get rid of the perception that there is a lack of parking in the downtown area, have a study done to count the spaces, and make a brochure to show where they are, so people aren't confused.
Relocate City Hall: City Hall has outgrown its current location and could possibly be moved to the former police and fire station.