BY GLENN PUIT
KALKASKA — The Village of Kalkaska is taking a big step forward in its downtown redevelopment plans with the purchase of half of a downtown city block.
The village closed Jan. 11 on the purchase of the old Erb Lumber property for a little more than $67,000, said Jeff Sieting, village president.
The approximate 2.5-acre site sits behind the Kalkaska trout statue, and its purchase gives the village control of much of the east side of the 300 block of Cedar Street on Kalkaska’s main thoroughfare.
“It’s a big deal,” said Doug Luciani, who heads the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. “They’ve got all but one parcel on that whole block now.”
Luciani said the purchase is significant because it will make it easier to lure developers to downtown Kalkaska.
“It’s a rare thing to have an entire block in the middle of a downtown, where all the parcels are vacant and under public ownership,” Luciani said. “Kalkaska has that now except for one corner … it allows for negotiations with a developer on the land without involving multiple owners of properties. It is very rare, and it’s a great opportunity for Kalkaska to revitalize.”
Kalkaska is implementing a long-term strategy to foster economic development to a community center that’s seen hard times of late.
Many properties in the downtown corridor need new facades and occupants. The main thoroughfare, Cedar/U.S. 131, sees heavy traffic — as many as 19,000 cars a day — but few motorists stop to shop in downtown Kalkaska. Business owners on Cedar said it often seems Kalkaska is a drive-through for tourists on their way to Traverse City.
Meanwhile, Kalkaska County has an 8.2 percent unemployment rate.
That will change if the village has its way. Village officials secured nearly $70,000 in grants through the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, Rotary Charities, the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, the Land Information Access Association, and the Kalkaska Downtown Development Authority.
Officials envision a large public space for picnics, a farmers market, and concerts. The village also is planning a brownfield redevelopment plan, a store-front corridor remake, and a comprehensive strategy to recruit investors and developers. A study prepared for the village found retail, entertainment and recreational businesses presented the greatest opportunity for job growth.
The village partnered with the Traverse City Area Chamber to take ownership of the old Kalkaska Chamber of Commerce building downtown and is working through the Grand Vision planning process.
Sieting said it’s an exciting time for the village and, for that matter, all residents of Kalkaska County.
“This is the culmination of two years of dedicated work, and that’s exciting,” Sieting said, adding the village’s philosophy is to “don’t let the mistakes of yesterday set in stone our potential for the future.”