Downtown businesses, community engagement celebrated at joint DDA/city event
THREE RIVERS — A chilly night didn’t deter the more than two dozen who attended the first-ever Three Rivers Community Engagement Event and Make Your Mark awards ceremony Friday night in downtown Three Rivers.
Held at A Place In Time, the night was a mix of networking, learning and celebrating, with information on different city boards and plans presented, as well as recognizing local businesses for their longevity in the downtown Three Rivers area.
“This is the first annual event, we kind of clumped the two events, and we really weren’t sure how many people were going to show up tonight. Considering how rough the weather was out there and the cold, windy conditions, it was great to see the turnout tonight,” Three Rivers Planning Commission Liaison John Beebe said.
There was a social hour for an hour before the event, with light refreshments available. A table was also available with information on the Planning Commission’s activities with the city’s new master plan and how residents can submit citizen interest forms to be considered for the numerous openings on the city’s boards. Information about an online community input survey, which can be found at bit.do/TRinput, was also given out.
The night started off with a brief rundown of what the Planning Commission and Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority (DDA) do for the city, as well as their respective accomplishments from the past few years. Beebe notably highlighted the new master plan, approved in 2020, which he said provides a view of the city for “the next 10 to 20 years.”
“A lot of communities, including Three Rivers, historically have put together a master plan with all this community vision behind it, and it ends up in a binder on a shelf and doesn’t do anything,” Beebe said. “That’s the main reason we’re here tonight beyond some of the downtown business recognition.”
Beebe also mentioned the Planning Commission’s work on ordinance amendments, which he said can help out plenty of new businesses by making it easier to find a place to set up. Of note, he mentioned the allowance of mobile food trucks in the downtown district and new businesses in the Airport Industrial Park as examples of how ordinance amendments have helped out.
“They help out a lot of the businesses and new businesses be able to establish in parts of the city that we didn’t allow them to be based on our initial zoning code,” Beebe said. “Some businesses would come into town and said, can we do this, and they follow the zoning path and get to a dead-end.”
At the end of his presentation, Beebe pitched the citizen interest forms and joining up with the different city boards, some of which have a number of vacancies. For example, Beebe said there are only three members of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals at the moment, with no alternates available.
“A three-person ZBA is too tiny. If any of those three can’t meet, it’s nice to have alternates,” Beebe said. “So, it’s good to have somebody fill out that citizen interest form and indicate they would like to serve on the ZBA, for example.”
Following that, DDA Executive Director Cameron Mains gave a presentation on the DDA and its accomplishments from the past few years, including the increase of community clean-up days, a number of ribbon cuttings, record turnout at events and new board members. He said there were many goals the DDA has currently, the main one being maintaining a “distinct sense of community while enhancing our Main Street atmosphere.”
“We have a really unique, historic community here in Three Rivers,” Mains said. “Our goal as the DDA is to preserve and protect that community for future generations.”
Mains then discussed numerous goals for the future, including filling vacant storefronts, diversifying the business mix downtown, and a number of other specific projects, including wanting to put in a dog park and amphitheater, expanding housing in downtown, and revamping the DDA’s R2 grant program.
“We’re going to be revamping our R2 grant that we have for retail and restaurant, and we’re going to be taking out the restaurant portion of that and adding upper floor housing to that grant,” Mains said.
Mains added that the DDA is working with code enforcement and SafeBuilt to try to crack down on code violations downtown. In addition, he also pitched those in attendance on the different committees the DDA has, and plugged the Christmas Around Town event coming up this week. He said the more people that can help the DDA achieve its goals, the better.
“My motto right now is, the more people we have, the easier it is to accomplish our goals,” Mains said. “Anybody who wants to join me in making our community a better place, I’m here to help and I’m here to listen.”
Following Mains’ presentation was the awards ceremony, emceed by DDA Board Chair Andrew George. A number of businesses, including the Three Rivers Commercial-News, were awarded certificates based on how long they have been in the downtown district. Recognition awards were handed out to new businesses, businesses who have been around for at least two years, businesses who have been around for at least five years, and businesses who have been around for 10 years or more, dubbed the “Make Your Mark” award.
“You guys are absolutely the reason we’re able to do what we do for the downtown, and we’re just so thankful,” George said. “Our biggest thing is recruiting businesses to downtown Three Rivers and ensuring businesses we do have last. That’s what the DDA is here for.”
Businesses in attendance recognized for being new businesses were Harker Technologies, Daly Dope and GG’s Cookies. The businesses recognized with the two-year award were Reflections Studio, Daly Lash and Spa and B and D Travel. The lone business recognized for being around for at least five years was the Sunoco gas station on Michigan Avenue. The businesses recognized for being around 10 or more years were Preferred Insurance, Parker Jewelers, Weenie Kings, the Three Rivers Commercial-News and Ridgeway Floral.
“It feels awesome, it’s great to give the businesses recognition. I feel like everybody needs a pick-me-up right now, and I feel like there’s so much work that goes unnoticed with these business owners every single day of giving their all to their businesses, so it’s great to be able to announce their names, have people clap and have their community recognize they made their mark,” Mains said.
Overall, both Beebe and Mains said things went alright for the first year, with Beebe saying they’re planning on having more community engagement events in the future.
“It’s important that we keep doing these. We need to stick with it,” Beebe said. “The master plan implementation stuff and other things pertaining to public participation, the city has a public participation strategy right now, and those are things we can’t just put on the shelf. I think there’s a lot more people out there that could engage, and I hope they find the information on the city’s website on how people can fulfill their civic duties.”
Mains said he looks forward to future awards ceremonies as well.
“I was uncertain how it was going to be, but I think it was good for the first one. It gives me hope to grow it for next year,” Mains said. “I loved tonight, I’m glad we had the turnout we did, and I can’t wait to see it grow next year.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.