Cass County Land Bank Authority helps City of Dowagiac bring more homes to county

Published 4:35 pm Monday, July 24, 2023

DOWAGIAC — Ten years after it was last occupied, a popular point of contention in the City of Dowagiac will soon be demolished.  

The former Lincoln Elementary School — also known as Encore Dance Academy — at 407 E. Division St., is one of five blighted parcels in Cass County that will be returned to reuse, thanks to Michigan’s Blight Elimination Program. In early July, Cass County Treasurer and Land Bank Authority Chair Hope Anderson told the Cass County Board of Commissioners that the Land Bank had been awarded $531,034 to complete blight activities in the second round of the program.  

“The level of blight [the former Lincoln School] building has created within the community has deteriorated property values and quality of life for both the residents of the neighborhood and the city as a whole, due to its prominent location on a heavily traveled state highway,” Anderson said. “The building has become one that promotes illicit activity and vandalism. Windows are broken and boarded up. The roof is failing, causing damage to the ceilings and floor throughout the building.” 

Amanda Sleigh, Dowagiac’s assistant city manager, said the city has high hopes for the land once the school building is razed. After demolition, the property will be subdivided into six residential lots.  

“We currently have a grant through the MSHDA MOD program that allows us to build modular homes in the community, and then sell them to a specific population — people with limited means or income limitations,” Sleigh said. “The plan with the programs that we’re in right now is to build a modular home on one of those sites.” 

The city has applied for additional funding through the MSHDA MOD program. If awarded those funds, the Lincoln School lot could see as many as four modular homes built across the six subdivided properties.  

In addition to the single-family homes made possibly by the Land Bank Authority grant, Dowagiac may soon also be home to a new multi-family residential structure.  

“The South Front Street property is an area that the City has decided is our next big redevelopment area,” Sleigh said, explaining that the city has relocated its Department of Public Works and identified other blighted buildings that distract from not only the City’s picturesque downtown, but the nearby creek front.    

“The property at 509 S. Front St. is in a state of significant blight and disrepair. The presence of broken and boarded-up windows and failing roofs, indicate the urgent need for intervention and revitalization efforts,” Anderson said. “Addressing these blighted structures and promoting redevelopment would not only improve the property’s condition, but also enhance the safety, security, and aesthetic appeal of the surrounding downtown area.” 

Sleigh said the City is excited to have a purchase agreement in progress for the property. 

“[The developer’s] goal is to build 60 residential units on that site,” she said. “We’re in active discussions and finalizing purchase agreements for that.” 

In the first round of the Blight Elimination Program, the Cass County Land Bank Authority received $200,000 to revitalize properties in Howard, Newberg, LaGrange and Pokagon townships, as well as Vandalia, Cassopolis and Marcellus. The demolitions in those areas are already underway.  

In round two, CCLBA applied for more than $1 million in demolition projects that would have occurred in Dowagiac, Wayne Township, Mason Township, Marcellus, Cassopolis, and Silver Creek Township. The state received more than $25 million in total grant applications and was able to award less than half. Still, Cass County received more than half of the funds it applied for. 

The CCLBA plans to submit proposals for Round 3 Blight Elimination Funding by the end of the year.