Experts from the National Main Street Center say the downtown that serves Saline appears built for a community of 3,000 to 4,000 people. Today, the City of Saline is home to about 9,100 people. Many of those people, as well people in the neighboring townships, view downtown Ann Arbor as their playground.
Wednesday night, officials from the National Main Street Center began talking about ways to refresh the approach to downtown revitalization in Saline. Officials shared their findings about downtown Saline at a forum at Mangiamo Italian Grill. Many of their findings were based on an internet survey answered by more than 100 local residents, business owners and employees. National Main Street Center officials also met the local Main Street officials, city officials, local business owners and representatives of the chamber of commerce.
Matt Wagner, National Main Street Center’s VP of Revitalization, said that people generally have a positive opinion of Downtown Saline. Words like “charming,” “historic,” “safe,” and “friendly” were among the words used to describe the city’s hub.
But there are challenges. Parking, of course, was one listed challenge. Two more pressing challenges are lack of storefronts and lack of diversity in housing.
Wagner said a common method of downtown revitalization is retail recruitment. At this stage Saline lacks the buildings to revitalize with a retail recruitment strategy.
Wagner said that for now the best approach is to build on what’s already here.
For example, Wagner said, one of Saline’s most important demographics is the “soccer mom.”
“People move here because of the schools and the safe, small town environment. So how do we draw out of that psychology,” he said.
Saline residents are concerned about their kids and they have disposable income. A trophy shop and business that embroiders uniforms and t-shirts might bring a lot of people to downtown Saline, he said. He also suggested a business where kids paint by day and adults pop the cork and drink wine while painting at night.
“If kids love downtown, the parents will follow,” he said.
He said it was important to physically connect families to downtown.
“Is it easy to get downtown with your family by walking or bicycling?” he asked.
Another important aspect is residential diversification.
“People want options. Right now Saline has a lot of single family homes. But there aren’t many other types of housing, especially close to downtown. Millennials aren’t as interested in owning a home,” he said.
Wagner met with the Saline Main Street board the next day to go into greater detail about these strategies.
Saline is one of three Michigan communitie selected to receive the National Main Street Center's assistance in community revitalization and preservation-based economic development.