From Main Street, With Love

L. Brooks Patterson is serving his sixth four-year term at the helm in Oakland County. As the chief elected official in one of America’s most affluent and progressive counties, he’s the driving force behind economic development initiatives including Emerging Sectors® that focus on attracting businesses and creating jobs in knowledge-based niches like health care and information technology. As a result, business and employment have flourished countywide. Brooks spoke with

Prosper about the county’s vibrant downtowns and the strength of the Main Street Oakland County® initiative.

People come from all over Southeast Michigan to dine, shop, see a show or catch a concert in our Main Street Oakland County® (MSOC) communities, or to simply walk around and take it all in.

Oakland County has the first full-service, county-level Main Street program in the U.S., and we have the honor of sponsoring the National Main Street Conference this weekend. It is expected to bring more than 1,500 downtown development professionals from across the U.S. to Southeast Michigan.

National Main Streets Conference
Works in Progress: Making Places, Moving Forward
May 18-20 at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center
The National Main Street Center invited me to speak about the success of our MSOC initiative, which is now in its fifteenth year.

Nineteen of our 32 downtowns are participating in the program since we launched in 2001. We add one or two communities each year. And of those participating communities, we are seeing downtown business occupancy rate of more than 90 percent. That’s phenomenal.

MSOC truly has been a valuable tool for developing and supporting small businesses – the backbone of any economy – and the results are impressive. There has been more than $648,500,000 in total new public and private investment in our downtowns. What does this mean?

  • 870 new businesses were established.
  • Over 3,000,000 square feet of new floor space was constructed.
  • 6,671 new jobs were created.

Many of our Main Street Communities garner awards from year to year. In 2010, the National Trust for Historic Preservation honored Ferndale among its recipients of the Great American Main Street Award of the year. Rochester also was honored with this coveted title last year. Only five communities across the U.S. are recognized with this distinction each year.

None of this success would be possible without great partners at the local governments, Downtown Development Authorities (DDA), and business owners.

“Ferndale has had over $68 million in public and private reinvestment in the last decade,” said Cristina Sheppard-Decius, Executive Director of Ferndale’s DDA. “The Main Street program really set up a structure for us to organize ourselves. It is a great role model as to how to manage a downtown and the organizational tools and resources.

“We had over a 30% vacancy rate in downtown Ferndale when we started.  We are now at 2% for that same area. We were able to chip away at that very quickly with concentrated effort, probably in four years we got it down to 5%,” Decius-Sheppard added. “After the market crash we have come out as a stable community that really works for businesses and entrepreneurs. We also have renovated and rehabbed 2/3 of our building stock, using the basis of historic preservation when and where possible as first priority, and second making sure quality materials are going in. Those are all things that they’ve taught us. Our business owners and property owners have benefited from us being involved.”

Our downtown communities are thriving and improving the quality of life for residents and visitors because of the venues, such as Holly’s BlackThorn Pub, which are creating a sense of place with an eye on historic preservation.

“One of the primary benefits we received from the Main Street program was the architectural design for the front of the Pub. We were contemplating restoring the facade to the original look even though it had been modified many years ago,” explained Joy Kelly, owner of BlackThorn. “After consultation with the MSOC staff, we opted not to do that, but to make much more cost effective changes which still reflected the Historic preservation we were looking for and in keeping with the Main Street Program. The consultation included both phone and on-site assistance. We were given a beautiful plan to follow which we presented to the Village of Holly for approval. This was at no cost to us – what a benefit to a new start up business!”

Our downtowns are thriving and improving the quality of life for the residents and visitors. It is no exaggeration to say that Oakland County downtowns have become an entertainment destination for our metropolitan area of 4 million people.

Main Street Oakland County® Communities
Lake Orion                             
Lathrup Village*                
Oak Park*                               
Walled Lake      
The mission of Main Street Oakland County is to maximize the economic potential and to preserve the heritage and sense of place of Oakland County’s historic commercial districts by encouraging and facilitating the use of the Main Street Four Point Approach, which emphasizes comprehensive economic development within the context of historic preservation. Established under the leadership of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson in 2000, MSOC is the nation’s first county-wide Main Street® program.
Denotes MSOC Associate Level Communities