From the President
Dealing with downtown building vacancies is one of the major issues driving Main Street programs throughout the country. In Eagle River, several critical locations have been unoccupied and listed for sale over the past year and more. So what can we do about those vacancies?
This year, the Eagle River Revitalization Program is tackling that issue in several productive ways. In September, the ERRP Economic Restructuring Committee coordinated and advertised a walking tour of four downtown properties in conjunction with local real estate firms. The idea was to give both prospective business owners and also the ERRP members a better idea of the opportunities each of those sites presented. As it turned out, participants on the tour wound up buying outright one of the most visible sites and that property is currently being renovated. ERRP contacted the state Main Street Program and was able to get technical assistance to produce a design rendering for the front façade of that site. The owners are currently using that design as the basis for their renovation project. Also stimulated by the tour, the sale of a second visited site is set to close in the near future. Linking prospective new owners with key vacancies can clearly help.
Out of summer scoping meetings, the ERRP has initiated the formation a new Downtown Investment Group as a second strategy. Made up of influential community leaders, the mission of the Downtown Investment Group is to connect interested and qualified investors with downtown development, building rehabilitation and business opportunities while also providing a satisfactory return on investment. With administrative and technical assistance from the ERRP, the group has been conducting site and building assessments with a goal of creating an investment prospectus for each of the highest priority sites. The next phase will be to identify prospective community-minded investors willing to take on one or more of these key sites.
A third strategy also initiated is a planned giving approach. Our hope is that one or more individuals or families who are especially committed to the Eagle River community might consider leaving a planned gift or a bequest to help establish a revolving community redevelopment fund. A bequest could include such things as an existing residence, life insurance gift, stocks or bonds, or an IRA. The community development fund would be managed by the ERRP with the intent of purchasing properties that may not be feasible for an investment group to tackle. Structures would be rehabilitated or removed and rebuilt. Then new business owners would be sought to lease or purchase the restored site. We have been very fortunate in receiving a $5,000 start-up donation to help kick off some of our downtown investment and redevelopment efforts.
In 2015, the ERRP is also launching a new Business Plan Incentive Grant program. The grant is designed to encourage prospective new business owners to create well-thought-out business plans before making the leap to start their business. An incentive package of a $500 grant, up to $1,000 of advertising package, and matching sign grant are in addition to the technical assistance received when the business plan is reviewed.
All of these strategies are designed to help reach our vision of downtown Eagle River filled with attractive and well-maintained buildings which contain an eclectic mix of successful, year ’round small businesses that create jobs, strengthen the local economy, enrich the community and make downtown the preferred destination for shopping, dining, recreation, entertainment and commerce. We welcome your interest and assistance in achieving that vision!