Shelton: Looking back, facing forward

Published 9:00 am Sunday, January 7, 2024

Dear friends, neighbors, and citizens of the City of Niles,

As we bid farewell to 2023, I am proud to share the incredible journey we’ve embarked upon together as a community. The strides we’ve made and the projects we’ve undertaken reflect our collective dedication to progress and prosperity for the City of Niles.

One of the most significant accomplishments in 2023 was the completion of the Downtown Streetscape/Sidewalk Project. If you wandered downtown in early 2023, you’ll likely recall the tumbling planters and crumbling bricks that adorned the streetscape. This transformative project saw the removal of these elements, ushering in an open-concept, simplistic design along Main Street. Initially budgeted for using American Rescue Plan Act Funds, the City and DDA secured $500K of this $1.3 million project from the MEDC’s Revitalization and Placemaking Grant, freeing up $500,000 in ARPA funds for other vital City projects… more on that later! With the new sidewalks came new downtown flowers and holiday decorations, so graciously tended to and cared for by the amazing volunteers from River Essence Group. I am so proud of the work that has been done and continues to be done in our Main Street District.

In 2023, our city witnessed a remarkable surge in the establishment of dynamic businesses, each contributing significantly to the thriving tapestry of entrepreneurship in Niles. From architectural and marketing services to eclectic storefronts, donut shops, coffee houses, fitness facilities, guitar strap manufacturers, comedy clubs, and speakeasies—these establishments have collectively elevated the vibrancy and economic prosperity of our community. The positive impact of these businesses is palpable, made evident by the diverse offerings, increased foot traffic, and the overall elevated appeal of our Main Street District and business corridor. The growth and variety brought by these businesses underscore our city’s resilience and its remarkable capacity for fostering a flourishing local economy.

Leveraging the support of Community Development Block Grant funding, the City of Niles remained committed to enhancing our community’s well-being through diverse initiatives in 2023. Our steadfast sponsorship of the YMCA’s Summer My Way camp continued, extending its impact over a span of six weeks to serve seven grade levels, providing a safe haven for 265 children to delve into the realms of nutrition, mental health, and more.

Moreover, CDBG funding played a pivotal role in vital community services:

*School Resource Officer: Allocating funds under Public Services, the City proactively supported crime prevention initiatives conducted by the Niles Police Department in collaboration with Niles Community Schools. This funding specifically aided crime prevention during after-school and extracurricular activities, reinforcing safety measures for students.

*Camp Scholarships: Dedicated CDBG resources contributed to providing scholarships for camps like Camp Eberhardt and the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology *Camp, ensuring that youth in our community have access to enriching and educational experiences.

*Homeless Assistance: Recognizing the importance of addressing homelessness, CDBG funds were earmarked to assist individuals precariously housed or experiencing homelessness. In 2023, the City successfully assisted six individuals in securing temporary housing, collaborating with the Ferry Street Resource Center to facilitate referrals for housing, employment opportunities, and comprehensive support.

The City’s commitment to community development has remained unwavering. In 2023, we made significant strides in updating our zoning ordinances to better align with the evolving needs of our residents. This initiative, part of our ongoing pursuit of Redevelopment Ready Communities Certification with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), includes adjustments such as reducing minimum lot size requirements, reimagining land use tables, and recategorizing residential neighborhoods for a more accurate representation of our city’s diverse areas.

In 2023, several long-tenured City employees retired (and one returned). Congratulations to Diane Powers (Building Department), Don Wise (Fire Department), Doug Janke (Utility Department), Connie Harper (Utility Department), Angie Caddy (Police Department), and Tim Vella (Public Works). Thank you for your service to the City, and please enjoy your retirement. And a special thank you to Public Safety Director, Jim Millin. Congratulations on your retirement and return! We are glad to have you back.

In 2023, the Niles Vikings Football team secured their best season in school history, becoming Wolverine Conference Champs, District Champs, and Regional qualifiers. I know I speak for our community when I say you made us all proud.

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Looking ahead to 2024, there are several exciting projects on the horizon. One of the most significant projects is the utilization of previously allocated ARPA funds to:

*Replace the shelter in South Riverfront Park ($70,000)

*Resurface Downtown Parking Lots ($250,000)

*Replace Public Works equipment for snow removal, road maintenance, and leaf pick up ($560,000)

*Purchase new patrol vehicles and upfitting X4 ($188,000)

*Purchase new river rescue boats X3 ($50,000)

*Construct the new downtown public outdoor space ($400,000)

*Improve downtown traffic lights ($100,000)

*Repair the non-motorized trail sections ($65,000)

Additionally, $1.3 million has been allocated to roadway repaving in 2024. And before you mention it, M-51/South 11th is *still* a state roadway. Fortunately, MDOT has announced their 2024 construction plans for the Niles area, which include:

*M-51 at Fort Street: New traffic signal.

*US-12 at Third Street: Reconfiguration of signal equipment to eliminate direct left turns from all approaches.

*M-51 at US-12: Removal of the twin US-12 bridges over M-51, and creation of an at-grade intersection.

*Median crossover for westbound US-12; east of Third Street, west of M-51: Signal reconfiguration.

*M-51 (S. 11th Street) north of US-12 to Main Street: Complete resurfacing.

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As I conclude this letter, and prepare to dive headfirst into 2024 (and the fourth and final year of my second term as your mayor), I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for all of your efforts in making our city a better place to live, work, and play in 2023.

To our dedicated City Staff, under the leadership of City Administrator Ric Huff, I extend to my heartfelt appreciation for your commitment to the seamless operation of our City. Your tireless efforts, often behind the scenes, form the bedrock of Niles’ success, and I am thankful for the integral role you play.

To the entrepreneurs and businesses that have chosen to invest in Niles, your decision has been pivotal in shaping our community’s economic landscape. Your courage and belief in Niles contribute to the vibrancy and resilience that define our community.

To our City Council, thank you for your dedication to serving the City of Niles. Faced with challenging decisions, your commitment to the well-being of our 12,000 residents is commendable, and I am proud of the thoughtful leadership you bring to our community.

To the dedicated individuals serving on the City’s various boards and commissions, thank you for your invaluable contributions to the formulation of City policies. Your commitment as outstanding citizen and neighbor volunteers is truly appreciated.

To our devoted volunteers and foundations, your selfless contributions enrich the fabric of our community. Your generosity and dedication are the driving force behind many initiatives that make Niles a better place for all, and your impact is truly immeasurable.

To our neighbors and visitors, thank you for choosing to spend time in the City of Niles. Your support and patronage helps to make our City a vibrant and thriving place. You are always welcome.

And most of all, to our amazing residents, my friends and neighbors, thank you for being engaged and involved in your community. Your commitment to making our City a better place for all is truly inspiring, and I am grateful for your efforts, for your support, and for your friendship.

As we look forward to 2024, I am filled with hope and optimism for the future of Niles. Together, I am confident that we can build upon the successes of 2023, working towards an even brighter and more prosperous future for our beloved city.

In summary, I extend my sincere thanks to each and every one of you for making 2023 a year of successes and great memories for the City of Niles. I cannot wait to see what you all have in store for 2024.

With Gratitude,

Nick Shelton

Mayor, City of Niles

P.s. It has come to my attention that 2024 is an election year. So, if you’ll have me, I would be honored to serve another four years as your mayor. Let’s go!