Old Town works as a community to maintain historical downtown

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Old Town maintains its historical district denomination through the Michigan Main Street program. The program has four core points: economic vitality, design, organization and promotion.

Brittney Hoszkiw, Community assistance team specialist for Michigan Economic Development Corp,  said the Main Street Four Point was created in the idea of building economic development through the root of historic preservation.

According to National Register of Historical Place, North Lansing developed in 1843. Old Town grew to be the original downtown of Lansing. It became Lansing’s commercial and industrial center after the establishment of a saw-mill.

In the 1870s, Old Town thrived through its businesses. By the late 20th century, Old Town began to fall into a town of abandoned buildings and high crime rates.

By 1996, crime rates declined and buildings were reused as the Michigan Main Street program revitalized Old Town through the Four Point program.

“That approach includes maintaining committees of stakeholders that focus on programming (to) leverage their unique building stock and the historic integrity of the buildings to encourage development,” Hoszkiw said.

Laura Krizov, manager of Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the only way Main Street will work in communities is if they have the support of public and private investment.

Old Town holds festivals throughout the year to help to attract audiences and raise money for the community, but sometimes these sources can be unreliable.

“When you have all your eggs in one basket and you have one weekend it decides to rain (during a festival or event), that can make or break the organization,” Krizov said.

Main Street assists Old Town with funding challenges.

“We (Main Street) have recently worked with them (Old Town) in developing a fundamental plan in really making sure they’re diversifying their funding across the board, and not just focusing on events and festivals,” Krizov said.

She said Main Street tells their communities to value historic preservation and economic development in order for the district to survive.

However, there is limited access to capital in owning a property. To be successful, Hoszkiw said property owners need a vision when repurposing historic buildings.

Programs such as Old Town Community Association, Main Street and Michigan Economic Development help property owners make investments in places where traditional banks may not be as willing to help, she said.

“A lot of times banks are only willing to invest in properties based on what it’s valued at,” she said. “Often times, these historic properties require a significant amount of investment.”

As property owners increase, there is a ripple effect of investment. Tenants have more opportunities because of the real estate development, she said.

Executive director of Michigan Historic Preservation Network, Nancy Finegood said she has also seen progress in the Old Town Commercial Association.

“They went through a lot of changes in the beginning. They went through a lot of different directors. I’ve seen them grow and have dedicated volunteers,” she said.

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