CASSOPOLIS – According to StrongTowns a non profit organization, small towns are dying across the U.S. But the village of Cassopolis is trying to flip the narrative and keep its small town alive.
The village of Cassopolis has finished $13 million in new improvements to it’s downtown. In the first phase of construction, four projects were planned.
The two main projects under the Image Cass master plan were a beach and pier on the bank of Stone Lake that is located within the village.
Two other projects that were highlighted in the first phase of the Image Cass master plan. The projects being a streetscape project and a new village hall.
“The village of Cassopolis has always been a slow and steady, not much change town,” said Cassopolis planning commission member Jay Smith. “But in the past six or seven months, I have never seen Cassopolis like this.”
All four phase one projects happened within a year apart. The new village hall was the first project completed in 2019 and had a total cost of $3.4 million. The streetscape, beach and pier all were started in the spring of 2020 and ended in the spring of 2021 totaling $9.5 million.
Since the projects have been completed the village’s tax revenue has nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021. The tax revenue in 2020 was $487,586 and rose to $835,096 in 2021.
“With both an annex and the new improvements to the village, there was a major increase in taxable value within the village,” said Cassopolis village treasurer Jackie Collins.
Also, within the last two years, all of the 20 downtown buildings have been sold.
As the first part of construction has been completed the village of Cassopolis has taken the opportunity to show its new improvements.
The village has been host to three summer parties, open mic nights and farmers markets. During the parties the village has brought in food trucks, live bands and a beer tent for visitors to enjoy.
“All the improvements now allows for people to rent homes and get nearby hotels,” said Cassopolis resident Joe Fazzini. “People now don’t just have to spend a day in Cassopolis but a weekend in Cassopolis.”
Starting in 2017, the village of Cassopolis started the Image Cass master plan. The village looked to get input from the Cassopolis community on what they wanted to see in the village.
“We wanted to upgrade our master plan for the village, we wanted to identify what the village needed and where the village was going,” said Cassopolis village manager Emilie Sarratore.
During the same time as starting the Image Cass master plan, the village applied for grants through Michigan State University’s sustainable built environment initiative program.
Every year Michigan State University picks a low number of communities to help under the SBEI program.
“We choose Cassopolis because of the great relationships with both the community and county of Cass,” said Wayne Beyea of Michigan State school of planning, design and construction. “Since our program was started in 2013, Cassopolis had the greatest level of public support of any other applicant ever.”
With the help of Beyea and Michigan State University students, Cassopolis was able to see what their village was capable of with design layouts.
“We looked at all of the plans as a village council and said let’s do it, no matter what it takes,” said Cassopolis village president David Johnson. “We said if we are going to fail then we will fail big.”