Harbor Springs views vacant storefronts as an opportunity

Creative community rolls out the red carpet to potential business owners by having tour of vacant storefronts in downtown area. Each store had real estate agent, leasing agent or community leader ready to answer questions.

Most small towns would shy away from promoting the fact that they have vacant store fronts available in their downtown district, but not Harbor Springs, Mich. Instead they decided to welcome new businesses into their downtown, tourist-friendly shopping district by hosting an open house in February showing off the opportunities available. 

Downtown businesses, building owners, and community members identified the vacant storefronts as a potential threat to their active waterfront downtown during recent placemaking efforts. The group vowed to find a creative way to embrace these openings and view them as opportunities to help welcome more year-round businesses. The group started by listing the available storefronts on a webpage.

But, they weren’t going to stop there.

When staff from the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance, a partner of Michigan State University Extension, met with city officials, they encouraged a revitalization of their Downtown Development Authority (DDA), allowing for a plan to be designed for the protection and planning for the downtown district.

The creation of a DDA helps centralize a community’s plans by encouraging future planning and calling for the creation of a committee that will help oversee progress. It also allows a community to garner taxes that can be used for downtown upkeep and promotion. This potential vacancy issue was the perfect opportunity for the DDA to stretch its legs.

On a quiet Saturday in February, Harbor Springs rolled out the red carpet to welcome business owners that could soon become a part of their community. Each open storefront had a real estate agent, leasing agent, or community leader at the ready to answer any questions about the property, the community and doing business in northern Michigan. This allowed potential business owners to tour several properties during the day without having to track down individual property contacts. It was essentially one-stop shopping for those that were interested in downtown Harbor Springs. Businesses that are headquartered hours away would have the chance to learn more about the community and gauge whether or not this vacation destination was a good fit for them.

The creativity of Benton Harbor residents will help them see return on investment using this inventive approach. Instead of showing off a few lemons, the community opened a lemonade stand. This kind of thinking can show off how innovative and welcoming a community is.

If you are interested in branching out, the folks over in Harbor Springs would be happy to meet with you any day, even if they are not busy hosting an open house. The Northern Lakes Economic Alliance can provide information on planning and permitting in Harbor Springs through the Emmet County Planning and Permitting Guide on their website, www.northernlakes.net.

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