MEDC presents Winter Strategies Report for downtown Niles

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 15, 2022

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NILES — Michigan Economic Development Corporation certified planner Christopher Germaine was on hand Monday to give the Niles City Council a presentation of the results of its Winter Cities Report concerning downtown Niles.

In September 2021, Niles was one of two municipalities in the state chosen by the MEDC for a new winter strategies pilot program aimed at turning winter economic development and recreation ideas into action. The report provides strategies for downtowns to drive foot traffic, maximize community assets and promote economic vitality during the winter months.

Key recommendations for Niles included:

  • Holding an annual community workshop each fall to discuss upcoming winter needs
  • Determining the future of the NODE
  • Reviving opportunities for ice skating
  • Conducting a winter sidewalk audit after snowfall
  • Expanding the city’s lighting project along the Riverfront walkway
  • Incorporating more winter activity into the city’s communication channels
  • Reviewing the city’s zoning ordinance to incorporate winter design concepts such as wind blocking, sun orientation, and colors.

According to Germaine, communities statewide are creating outdoor social districts in their downtowns, closing off sections of streets that allow residents and visitors to walk downtown and enjoy the scene. Thanks to changes in regulations in response to the pandemic, social districts are helping to spur additional economic growth and engagement in their communities. Germaine said there are currently 78 social districts in Michigan and the number continues to rise.

Lisa Croteau, Director of Marketing and Administration for Niles Main Street, appreciates the study and thinks its recommendations will improve downtown Niles.

“I thought they provided fun opportunities for us to see what we can do to help Niles be a four-season community,” she said.

Croteau believes Niles’ potential as a destination space is bolstered by its centralized location in Michiana.

“We’re not a tourist place,” she said. “If we can build out things to do in this town year-round, people will come here in the dead of winter if we can provide them with something fun to do. The Hunter Ice Festival proves that. It would be beneficial to our community if we are able to put some of those things into action. We’re excited to see what we can make happen.”

The presentation came on the heels of Niles Main Street being chosen as one of eight communities in the state to be awarded $20,000 apiece in grants to support downtown enhancement and improvement projects as part of the Main Street Vibrancy Grant program.

Croteau said the grant money will be used to purchase lighting for downtown trees, to enhance space between Riverfront Park and downtown and for the recommendations for the new outdoor hub area in development.

“The support MEDC and Michigan Main Street provide communities is phenomenal,” Croteau said. “We are thrilled to have been awarded a Vibrancy Grant to help us put in place recommendations from the Winter Cities Report as well as the outdoor area we are currently working to create.” 

Last week, Niles Main Street released a survey designed to gain input from residents for the city’s Downtown Niles Outdoor Hub Plan. The survey – which closes on Monday, April 19 – can be found on both the “Mayor Nick Shelton” and “The Node – Niles Outdoor Downtown Experience at second and main” Facebook pages.

The survey takes about seven minutes to complete. According to the survey, all information will be collected anonymously. Croteau encourages community members to participate in the survey to help create a vision for the future of downtown Niles.

“The information we can receive from the community as to what they would like to see from an outdoor area downtown would be awesome,” she said.