Village, Ontwa township walking a promising line

Published 7:07 pm Monday, May 31, 2010

Edwardsburg Argus

Ontwa Township and the Village of Edwardsburg caught some attention this month with the publication of the Michigan Municipal League’s official magazine The Review.
The May/June issue highlighted the joint effort between the two municipalities to reshape the Edwardsburg community with an $8 million plan that would include a redesign of the community’s infrastructure, including streetscapes and accents – creating a new, improved, commercialized destination.
Village President Jim Robinson is positive when discussing the plan but says that seeing the dream become a reality is still a little ways off.
“We have a plan,” he said. “It’s like a 20 year plan of things that we’d like to do but we still can’t do any of it until we get some money.”
Back in January, the Cass County Board of Commissioners voted on the Tax Increment Funding plan which, as the Argus’ John Eby reported in December 2009 lets cities, villages and townships form authorities to: correct and prevent deterioration in business districts; encourage historic preservation; authorize acquisition and disposal of real property; create and implement development plans; and promote economic development.
The Corridor Improvement Authority (CIA) states it will only capture increased taxable valuation from new investments and will not touch current taxable value or inflationary valuation so, in theory, no taxes are lost by any taxing entity.
The CIA’s 20-year plan for 2010 to 2030 aims to: improve Edwardsburg’s overall business climate; deter economic decline and improve the tax base; encourage retention and expansion of employment opportunities; maintain and improve public facilities; provide guidance in land use development; improve appearance, visual amenities, unique features and character of district.
“It took us a little less than a year to do this whole thing we had to do to form the CIA and we did that and now we’re just waiting for some money so we can apply for grants.”
At the base of the 20 year plan for Edwardsburg’s future is the all-mighty dollar sign.
State funding is essential for the village to move forward in putting its plans into action. But Robinson said those grants the village and the township want to apply for come with a required match on behalf of the village – a match of funds the village doesn’t have.
“We’re not even applying for them yet because we don’t have any money for them to match,” he said.
Even after the TIF agreement was approved, Robinson said “it’s going to take a while” to see results.
With funding such an issue now, encouraging new construction within the village – a total of 138 parcels that would be included in the project and five of those being located in Ontwa township – is also a challenge.
“That’s another big issue that we have,” Robinson said. “Because there’s nothing – we as a municipality don’t really have the resources to offer anybody,” as a means of incentive to build in the area.
“It’s very difficult to do,” he said.
With construction comes the need to attract businesses to the village as well.
“What we’re hoping is once we get something started, it will draw more people to the uptown area,” Robinson said. “There are some buildings that can be refurbished.”
Hurdles definitely, but even with a struggling state economy, Robinson said he’s not concerned with the village being unable to get its hands on state grants once they have the funds to match them.
When it all comes together a fully redesigned square, focused on the idea of becoming a “walkable community” could very well be something to revitalize the community and bring a wealth of opportunity to town.