U.P. downtowns transformed into revitalized destinations

Marty Fittante

MARQUETTE — The downtown streets of villages, cities, and towns across the Upper Peninsula bustle with activity.

Art galleries, craft breweries, unique boutiques and distinctive restaurants, all can be found in the walkable downtown districts of the U.P. As more people are simultaneously drawn to both smaller towns and downtown living, Main Streets across the region are alive with transformational projects that are addressing housing demands, creating new jobs, and supporting area entrepreneurs.

From Houghton to Sault St. Marie, a number of downtown projects are planned or currently underway. These projects, championed by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, are changing the face of downtown communities across the U.P. They encompass a number of elements that attract young professionals in particular, such as walkability and trail systems, green space and gathering places, a sense of community, and access to restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues.

“This infusion of energy and investment in our region’s downtown districts has come at a perfect time,” said InvestUP CEO Marty Fittante. “After a challenging couple of years for small businesses and entrepreneurs, our towns and cities are bouncing back in a big way. Although there have been some pandemic-related delays, these projects hold great promise for the region.”

In Houghton, the Pier Placemaking Project will transform an underused waterfront into a dynamic, year-round community space featuring downtown recreational and gathering places. Expanded public spaces, reconstructed parking, and improved access to a waterfront trail system will capitalize on the scenic views of the Portage Canal Waterway and bridge. A new pier that can accommodate Great Lakes cruise ships will allow visitors to disembark in the heart of downtown Houghton. The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2022.

As more people discover the ease and convenience of downtown living, projects in Iron Mountain, Houghton, and Munising are meeting the increasing need for more housing.

In Iron Mountain, developers are converting the second floor of a historic mixed-use building — the former town fire hall — into seven residential apartments. Houghton is activating new residential space in two historic, mixed-use buildings on Shelden Avenue in the heart of downtown.

In Munising, interior improvements are planned for an existing historic building that is currently vacant and uninhabitable.

Hancock, Marquette, and Calumet are also working toward the approval of residential projects with the MEDC.

In December, three UP cities — Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie, and Houghton — received Match on Main grants that help strengthen downtowns and build resilience.


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