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ELK RAPIDS — A highway that divides the Elk Rapids business community won't stop local leaders from attempting to mimic a successful state-run downtown development program on both sides of the street.
The village's Downtown Development Authority recently voted to withdraw from the Michigan Main Street program after one year as an associate member. The program would have required the village to focus solely on its historic downtown area east of U.S. 31 and hire a full-time person to administer an economic development program.
DDA members couldn't justify hiring someone devoted to a three-block downtown on the west side of U.S. 31 while ignoring the rest of the village's business community, particularly the east side, said Jan Bassett, DDA chairwoman.
"On that east side you have big businesses, Pearl's and Short's and the grocery store and art galleries and other types of restaurants," Bassett said. "They absolutely require you hire a full-time person devoted to the one area, and that doesn't fit into any of our budgets. We're a bunch of volunteers."
Joe Borgstrom, a program director at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority that runs the Michigan Main Street Center, said the program is focused on historic downtowns because it uses historic preservation as an economic development tool. The Main Street program believes the focus on improving the core downtown — and resulting traffic boost — will benefit outlying business areas.
"We have seen communities the same size as Elk Rapids have a full-time manager and there is enough for them to do," Borgstrom said. "It's a question of priorities, and communities have to make those decisions individually."
The year officials spent learning the program's four-pronged approach of setting up separate committees for organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring won't be lost, Bassett said.
"We learned a lot and energized a lot of people," Bassett said. "We set up committees to keep things going the way they do, and those committees are meeting and doing good things."
What Elk Rapids loses by leaving the program is the ability to move up to the next level, where the Main Street Center provides thousands of dollars worth of professional consulting services, Bassett said. But local officials made contacts and discovered other economic development resources over the past year.
Borgstrom said the state doesn't have a problem with Elk Rapids trying to continue the program on its own. What the community loses is someone to help keep them on track. He compared it to the difference in joining a gym and hiring a personal trainer.
"We appreciated having Elk Rapids as part of the program," he said. "We're sorry to see them go, and we wish them all the best."