HyettPalma presents final downtown blueprints plan
by John Morris
EAST TAWAS - A Virginia based consulting firm is recommending East Tawas and its downtown businesses take a multiple step course of action for its Cool Cities blueprint.
Doyle Hyett of the Alexandria, Va. firm HyettPalma returned to East Tawas Monday night for a presentation of its final downtown study report. More than 100 residents and business owners attended the session, "The Renaissance of Downtown East Tawas" at the Tawas Bay Holiday Inn.
"This is the first time we've worked with you, but we have known you for a long time," Hyett said. "We've been watching you over the course of the last 15 years.You've got a good downtown, you're a community with good people and you have the natural draw of the waterfront. It's rare when a community has this.
"It's not often that a community has this chance (to make improvements). If you don't do something about it, then shame on you. Don't stop and don't slow down."
Hyett said for those who might seek to create a physical theme for downtown it should be a quaint, small town nostalgia stressing pedestrian-friendliness and include nautical influences without going to extremes.
He said the city government must become known as being both pro-business and pro-quality. Hyett said this can be done by establishing clear standards; making those standards known publicly; adhering to those standards; ensuring that all application and review processes are easy to navigate; and speedily granting approvals for private investment that meets the city's standards.
Concerning public improvements, Hyett first suggested the city improve its wayfinding system - a professionally designed set of distinctive public signs. He said they should be created and installed to better lead motorists and pedestrians to downtown and its attractions.
Those signs, Hyett said, should lead motorists to "Downtown East Tawas" from all major routes; welcome motorists at the entrances of downtown; point pedestrians to the waterfront attractions such as the park, pier, marina and gazebo; direct pedestrians and motorists to the shops along Newman Street; and on-street directory, most likely located at the intersection of US-23 and Newman, showing the location of downtown businesses and attractions.
Secondly, he said the city's Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA) and city council have been discussing and planning to make streetscape improvements along Newman Street. "This project should be initiated at the earliest time," he said.
Hyett said the streetscape should be accomplished by revisiting the elements suggested for downtown in 2000 by M.C. Smith Associates and then taking the next step - having a comprehensive, coordinated and professionally designed streetscape plan defined for Newman Street and for the intersection of US-23 and Newman.
Lastly, he talked about the state-controlled marina.
"By all local accounts, it appears that the regulations being applied to downtown's marina by the state government - regarding outdoor cooking, alcoholic beverage consumption and welcoming gestures such as the distribution of free newspapers and ice - are more restrictive than and not consistent with those applied to other state-controlled marinas in Michigan," Hyett said.
He said inconsistent and more restrictive regulations could be putting the East Tawas State Dock, and, as a result, downtown East Tawas and the city of East Tawas as a whole, at an economic disadvantage. Hyett suggested the city should seek the assistance of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority CATeam "in beseeching the state government to make regulations that govern the East Tawas marina consistent" with other state-controlled marinas.
On private property improvements, the study focused on two action items - buildings and business signs.
Hyett said for the most part downtown's buildings are relatively well-maintained. However, he said some are in need of exterior repairs and most can be made to look more nostalgic and quainter so that they are more in-keeping with the community's desired image for downtown.
"In addition, fairly universally, the exteriors of downtown's storefronts do not adequately convey the appeal and uniqueness of the businesses they contain," Hyett said. "Therefore, certain tools such be created to incentivize downtown owners to make exterior improvements."
He said those tools such include design guidelines, a facade study, facade grants and design assistance.
Hyett said downtown business signs should reinforce, convey and be consistent with the image being created. He suggests that the signs be projecting and flush mounted; use of representational signs, i.e. a sign in thee shape of a shoe to mark a show shore; and revising the city's sign ordinance.
Under real estate development, the study lists six actions that should be taken. They include:
Hyett said it is very important that the library be located in downtown East Tawas, but not located within storefronts of the first or second block of Newman Street since those should be reserved for business use. He said consideration should be given to creating a mini-park as part of the facility to provide open space for library programs and community gatherings.
Tawas Bay Resort. Hyett said the hotel is a "very valuable community asset that is sited in an ideal location" - on the water and adjacent to Newman Street shops. "Every effort necessary and possible should be made to ensure that this facility remains a first-class draw, on a first-class bay and within a first-class downtown in terms of lodging, dining, entertainment and recreation," Hyett said.
o Farm Market Pavilion. There is a desire to build a pavilion on the former community building site. He said care should be taken to ensure that the pavilion is designed to reflect the image being created for downtown; be multi-functional; doesn't hide the view of the bay; and is an integral part of the grand statement at the intersection.
o Public Restrooms. Hyett said while there is a desire locally to create public restrooms downtown, care should be taken. He said such restrooms can become security and maintenance nightmares. He encouraged downtown businesses to make their restrooms available to the public since "it has been found that there is a direct link between a business's restroom use and its sales."
o Norman's. Hyett said the "unfinished" building in which this business is located has long been an issue in the community - an issue that was raised by the community in every single session held by the firm.
"Universally, local consensus is that the community wants to see this issue resolved and resolved now."
He suggests the city government and owner of Norman's should agree to come to to an agreement; the city and owner should retain a qualified, quality design professional who can garner the respect of both; and who should be retained and given the authority to recommend designs that allow the building to be completed and signs installed in a manner that is in keeping with the design guidelines.
o Housing. Hyett said it is understood that there are not many opportunities for upper floor housing along Newman Street. He said where such opportunities exist, quality loft apartments should be created.
Concerning business development, the study suggests retailers should specialize; change window displays at least every two weeks; encourage employees to attend hospitality training sessions; consider shifting to later store hours; use employee parking lots rather than parking in front of store fronts; install trash compactors and reduce and screen dumpsters; and the city should provide a checklist in brochure form that explains all processes pertaining to business ownership.
Lastly, HyettPalma recommends that the following types of additional businesses should be the first targets of recruitment to the downtown: restaurants offering dining and entertainment and indoor and outdoor seating; casual apparel, particularly for women; a bakery; home accessories; art, sales and studios; and sporting equipment and rentals.
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