Is Your Town “Ready” for Redevelopment?

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While attending the National Planning Conference in San Francisco this year I attended a session titled, “Redefining Planning and Economic Development”. The main topic of the session was Michigan’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program. The Redevelopment Ready Communities program has been developed by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation out of Lansing, Michigan.

Is Your Town “Ready” for Redevelopment?

Delta Hotel, Escanaba, Michigan

The Redevelopment Ready Communities program stared in the inner-ring suburbs of Detroit as a way to spur redevelopment in that beleaguered metro area. There were a number of best practices that were developed in the process of helping those communities that members of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation felt needed to keep alive and apply statewide. The program has worked with 250 communities across Michigan. A total of 33 communities have been certified in the process, while a number of communities are in the midst of the evaluation process.

As stated by Katharine Czarnecki of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the program is “essentially the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” that the community is ready for redevelopment. A number of other states have similar programs (insert instances in other states)

Most of the programs take a look at the variety of plans (or lack thereof) that your community has. This includes the community’s comprehensive plan, any corridor improvement plans, downtown plans, housing studies, etc. It is often that developers look at these plans when working through the due diligence process. So take these plans off the shelf, dust them off, and see if they need to be updated.

The Michigan group also takes a look at each community’s Capital Improvements Plan (CIP). This is a good aspect that the programs for all the other states should incorporate. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has found a number of communities that didn’t have CIPs in place. This is an alarming, but unfortunately common occurrence in many small communities, not just those in Michigan (and the probable subject of a future post).

The group also takes a look at your community’s website. It needs to be up-to-date and informative. The information available should be just about how great your little town is, but viable information that is important to the decision-making and development process. Are there links to the town’s plans? The zoning ordinance? What about contact information for building permits? What versions of the building codes does your community use?

The community’s entitlement process is also important. Is it clear an understandable for both the larger regional developers and the start-up businesses that haven’t been through the process before?

There’s much more work to the certification process beyond those aspects. It is an extensive process that can take anywhere from 9 months to 3-1/2 years to complete depending on your community’s current readiness and commitment to complete it. This seems relatively similar in other states as well. It is a good idea to select a point-person, an individual to take the flag and run with it. You should also be prepared to involve your community’s engineering consultant or another consulting group to help prepare the documentation. It may cost you a bit, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

The payoff? The Michigan program boasts a suite of services like:

    • Baseline community visits
    • Predevelopment assistance
    • Priority site promotion
    • Design/Build assistance
    • Site-Developer matchmaking

So if your state has a community certification process, it is highly recommended that you take a look a look into it. It may not immediately result in development. But it is simply a good process for assessing your community’s readiness for development. For more on Michigan’s program, check out their website.