Dowagiac City Council purchases properties, eyes new master plan

Published 11:17 am Wednesday, February 13, 2019

DOWAGIAC — New developments may be coming to downtown Dowagiac, thanks to a vote Monday by the Dowagiac City Council.

During Monday evening’s regularly scheduled city council meeting, council members voted to approve the purchase of five properties in and around downtown from the Douglas E. McKay Trust. The total cost of all the properties is $100,000.

“This has been a long time in the making,” said Mayor Don Lyons. “We have all been anxiously awaiting this day.”

Properties include:

• 143 S. Front St.

• 309 Pennsylvania Ave.

• 311 Pennsylvania Ave.

• 106 W. High St.

• 137 S. Front St.

“These will become pretty important properties to acquire over the long haul,” said City Manager Kevin Anderson. “We are looking forward to the possibilities with this.”

The property at 137 S. Front has been the driver behind negotiations with the McKay family over the last several months, according to Anderson. The property sits adjacent to downtown’s Beckwith Park, which city leaders have been planning to excavate since last year due to unsafe surfaces, trip hazards and settling ground.

With the purchase of the property, Anderson said he would work with the current tenant of the building — art and thrift shop, Art Enah Suit — to find a new business space before tearing down the building and starting renovations to Beckwith Park.

“Most casual observers can tell there are some structural issues with that building,” Anderson said.

The properties on Pennsylvania Avenue and High Street are vacant lots. Anderson said he hopes to see residential developments pop up on those properties.

“There are a lot of communities and a lot of research to suggest that downtowns are very well served by having residential developments right in them or right adjacent to them,” Anderson said. “So, right now, we are trying to see what kind of residential developments would work there.”

The property at 143 S. Front St. is the former Harvey’s Shop. Lyons said that the city does not have an interest in developing that property and will be looking to find a buyer for it.

“Hopefully it can become a once again important part of downtown,” he said.

Also Monday, the city council approved a resolution to enter into an agreement with Michigan Township Services for the development of a comprehensive plan, or master plan, update. The update process will take roughly six months and cost $5,100, according to Anderson.

The city’s comprehensive plan/master plan was last updated in 1997. Several years ago, the State Legislature approved new guidelines and expectations for community master plans, and more recently, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation has instituted a Redevelopment Ready Community program for which an updated master plan is required. Becoming an RRC is now becoming a requirement for several State of Michigan grant programs, so it has become essential to update the city of Dowagiac’s Comprehensive plan/master plan, Anderson said.

The plan update will require significant input from the planning commission and the citizens through public hearings that will be hosted by the planning commission. Following the public hearings, Michigan Township Services will work with the city to put together all the pieces and information gleaned from those meetings to come up with a master plan update.

“We won’t know how this will change the master plan until we go through the process,” Anderson said. “What this [resolution] does is set the process.”