The Importance of Strong MI Downtowns

The Importance of Strong Michigan Downtowns
Welcome to Downtown
Picture yourself sitting on a bench in your favorite Michigan downtown.  Do you see the family laughing in the park and the colorful shopping bags the pedestrians flash as they walk by? Perhaps you can hear the sound the bell makes announcing your entry at the bookstore or hear the floors creak under your steps as you browse the racks in the boutique housed in a historic building. Breathe deeply and you will smell the flowers that dot the sidewalks. Walking into the toy store you are greeted by name, and you order your ‘usual’ at the café. Take a bite of the chocolate chip cookie and savor the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee that warms your hand. Can you feel the pulse of your community sitting on that bench?
During your next visit to your favorite Michigan downtown, take a few minutes to observe all that is going on around you. What do you hear? What do you see? Who do you see? Take it all in.
Michigan Downtowns as Economic Drivers
Downtowns are multifunctional because they provide places to gather, shop, work, dine, live, worship, be entertained, and enjoy a variety of cultural offerings.  The concentration of buildings, dating from a variety of periods, form a unique charm that has evolved over time and reflects the community's character.  The compact footprint of downtown makes it a pedestrian-orientated district with buildings located in a manner that creates continuous facades set close to or on the property line with entry to buildings directly from sidewalks.  Above all, downtown acts as the key defining feature of the community's overall Sense of Place.
In a nutshell, our Michigan downtowns serve as the social and economic center of our communities and downtown management is economic development.  The downtown’s walkability, infrastructure, events, small businesses, historic buildings, and amenities all contribute to the economic vitality of a community and region.   It starts within the downtown.

The weekly farmers market or annual festival held in the park drives people downtown offering visitors a taste of the small businesses located within the district. Events bring people together, offering cultural experiences and a chance to exchange ideas. 

Downtown also tells the story of who we are. Each one of the small business owners located within the district has a tale to tell.  Whether it is the barber who cut your grandfather’s hair and now cuts your son’s or the young entrepreneur who just had her grand opening, the small businesses located on main street provide the narrative for the community.

The buildings chronicle the history of the community and have their own story to tell.  The architecture provides the backdrop for downtown while maintaining, and sometimes repurposing, the historic gems can increase the tax base which benefits downtown, the municipality, and the region.

Art, outdoor restaurant seating, an inviting streetscape, and well-designed public spaces help to complete downtown’s immersive experience.  These amenities invite creativity, expression, congregation, and socialization.  
A vibrant downtown has a ripple effect that expands into the region.  Vibrancy attracts visitors, residents, entrepreneurs, dreamers, investors, and developers.

Downtown offers a full experience- the sights, the sounds, the vibe, the people.  Take it all in.
Having it All - Creating and Maintaining a Well-Rounded, Strong Michigan Downtown
Strong Michigan downtowns are expected to have it all.  A dynamic and varied business mix, effective communications with stakeholders, placemaking initiatives, modern infrastructure, pretty flowers, and a pipeline of entrepreneurs begging to rent space are just a few characteristics of a well-rounded downtown.  Can downtown really have it all?
Yes, with a strong downtown management organization, a committed team of volunteers and staff, and a supportive municipality and community, a downtown truly can have it all!  But it isn’t easy. It takes careful planning and a commitment to constantly improve.
The Job is Never Done
Like your relationships, home, profession, or anyone or thing you value, the work to continually improve downtown is never done.  Downtowns, and their management organizations and directors, are ever changing, ever adapting, and ever learning. 
Think of the changes we have witnessed over the last three years!  Social Districts began as a much-needed revenue source for restaurants and bars. Now the areas, frequently managed by downtown management organizations, have morphed into an economic driver truly living up to the name, Social District.
Small businesses, often with the assistance of a downtown director, have maneuvered through shutdowns, grants, loans, a changing work force, and a shift in consumer spending. This is in addition to the quickly changing world of technology, websites, and social media an entrepreneur must contend with to keep up with the latest trends.
In today’s world, the preservation of historic buildings can make the greatest economic sense and office buildings begin to be repurposed into living spaces and other creative uses. Public spaces, whether it is a pocket park or central park, have become even more important gathering places to foster relationships and an appreciation for community.
And through all the changes, downtowns remain the heartbeat of a village or city.
Whether you work, live, or play in our Michigan downtowns, next time you visit, be sure to take it all in.
The Michigan Downtown Association
Founded in 1980, the Michigan Downtown Association (MDA) is a state-wide, non-profit organization and a driving force in the interest and growth of downtowns and communities throughout Michigan. The MDA encourages the development, redevelopment and continuing improvement of Michigan communities and downtowns. Its members support economic development within the State of Michigan and include cities, Downtown Development Authorities, townships, businesses, and individuals. For more information, please visit or call 248-838-9711.