Community introduced to Niles PlacePlan

Teri Frantz was one of approximately two-dozen people who attended a public input session about a new plan designed to attract more people to live and work in downtown Niles, while at the same time spurring economic growth there.

The Dowagiac woman said she would be willing to move to Niles if some of the ideas in the Niles PlacePlan ever come to fruition, including the construction of cottages overlooking the St. Joseph River on Main and State.

She said she likes the idea of being able to walk downtown to eat and shop at the types of places envisioned in the ambitious plan.

“There are people out there waiting if it happens,” she said during a question and answer session at Tuesday’s meeting at the Niles Law Enforcement Complex.

Frantz is not alone in her thoughts.

According to Richard Murphy, of the Michigan Municipal League, a growing number of people are willing to exchange the typical “American dream” of having a standalone house and yard for a smaller, attached structure like a rowhouse within walking distance to shops and restaurants.

“We want places built around people and the human experience,” he said, adding that people prioritize quality of life factors over most other factors when choosing a place to live.

Work on the Niles PlacePlan began more than a year ago when Niles was one of seven communities chosen to receive assistance from the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan State University.

Their work focuses on creating preferred development scenarios for three city-owned downtown properties:

• The site of the former YMCA on Main and State Streets

• The site of the former public safety building at Third and Broadway Streets

• The “water street block” on the west side of Front Street between Sycamore and Ferry Streets

It also included plans to rework downtown streets and parking to make the city more walkable and to provide a better connection between the Main, Front and Third Street corridors.

The plan, called “Niles PlacePlan: Turning the Corner,” was released to the public last month and is available in full online at placemaking.mml.org/place-plans/niles/

Tuesday’s meeting included a presentation about the PlacePlan by Murphy in addition to comments from Niles’ Community Development Director Sanya Phillips.

Ryan Simpson, of Kinexus in Benton Harbor, also spoke about how his organization is developing a Target Market Analysis (TMA) for Niles that will compliment the PlacePlan.

Phillips said the city would use the PlacePlan as it updates its Master Plan in the coming weeks and months.

During public comment, a few people said Niles needs a wider variety of restaurants and shops and more businesses that stay open later than 5 p.m.

One resident said Niles’ biggest problem is that landlords need to do a better job of maintaining their properties.

Another resident said it is difficult to see these developments happening because there hasn’t been a new development in Niles for several years.

Ric Huff, city administrator, said if the city can find one developer to start one project, it would increase the likelihood of more coming on board in the future.

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