Negaunee set to move forward with economic development plan

Iron Street is one of several areas in Negaunee that could potentially benefit from the city’s “Moving Forward” economic development plan. The document, which incorporates state and local efforts, was unanimously approved by the Negaunee City Council at a recent meeting. (Journal file photo)

NEGAUNEE — The city of Negaunee is “moving forward” with a new blueprint for economic development.

The Negaunee City Council at its Nov. 8 meeting unanimously approved the city’s inaugural economic development plan.

City Manager Nate Heffron said the plan, which was funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. under the Project Empire initiative, “is a major milestone for the city of Negaunee.”

The plan, entitled “Moving Forward,” will encourage new development by capitalizing on the city’s unique history, Heffron said.

“This is the main thing that I recognized when I came here, is that you guys have something different here,” Heffron told the council. “And if we don’t protect that, that’s shame on us.”

The plan was devised through a joint effort of the newly developed Negaunee Economic Development Advisory Team, and professional assistance from John Iacoangeli of Beckett and Raeder.

It includes several strategies for economic success, one of which is the implementation of a downtown plan and streetscape project “to preserve Negaunee’s history, enhance character and spawn new economic development opportunities,” a city press release states.

The city will also continue its relationship with the Lake Superior Community Partnership for economic development and business retention and maintain an existing relationship with the Superior Trade Zone, a multi-governmental partnership between units of government in Marquette and Delta counties.

LSCP CEO Amy Clickner said the newly adopted document is a sign of major progress.

“This plan definitely shows that Negaunee is open for business, that they are here to help foster a relationship that lends assistance to businesses, creates jobs, and goes that extra mile to bring them here and keep them here,” Clickner said.

The plan incorporates the implementation of a downtown plan and streetscape project “to preserve Negaunee’s history, enhance character and spawn new economic development opportunities.”

The city will also work with downtown business owners to engage the MEDC’s grant facade program.

“Right now we are moving in the right direction,” Heffron said, noting the completion of two projects at Tino’s Bar & Pizza and Smarty’s Saloon along Iron Street.

“We have people who are buying buildings to create new businesses in town,” Heffron said. “We want to be part of that movement. This town is going to be really really cool when it’s done.”

The plan also calls for reactivation of the city’s downtown development authority and the establishment of a tax-increment finance district.

There have been two attempts to structure a DDA in the last 30 years. The first such authority was operational in the 1980s and dissolved in 1991, after every member of the body resigned. The second began in 2003 but fizzled in 2004 after an attempt to modify the TIF district failed.

Talks to restart a DDA were rekindled again in February 2017, but stalled after the city mutually separated from then City Manager Jeff Thornton.

Councilor Jim Kantola said he is behind the economic development plan “100 percent.”

“It’s amazing. I wish you’d been here a dozen years ago, we would be in a different spot,” Kantola told Heffron. “But it’s never too late to start and I think we are moving forward at a great pace and I can’t wait to see where it ends up.”

Negaunee residents will be afforded an opportunity to hear details on the plan and ask questions at 5 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Negaunee High School.

A copy of the entire document can be viewed online at www.cityofnegaunee.com or at the Negaunee Public Library.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.