On July 18, Saline City Council heard a presentation about the Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) program administered through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and the Michigan Economic Development Council (MEDC).
The presenter at Council spoke of “nimble action strategies,” to “integrate transparency, predictability and efficiency,” “best practices,” “implementation,” “leveraging partnerships,” “organic process,” “proactive community engagement,” “a seamless point of contact,” “branding."
At the end of the meeting Council reached consensus that the city should at least set out on the path to be certified as a Redevelopment Ready Community.
The presenter was Michelle Parkkonen, a U.P. native who began working with the RRC organization three years ago as a planner and recently became the manager. She provided an overview of the program, described the RRC six best practices, outlined the process for cities to become certified and suggested several advantages the community might receive through certification.
The program involves certifying communities as redevelopment ready on the basis of long term plans, processes and programs they have put in place. The certification process and the continued relationship with RRC provides communities with resources for directing their future.
The program emphasizes planning, but not planning for planning sake.
“We focus on implementation,” Parkkonen said. “This is a plan to take action.”
One distinction of the program is that the usual processes of developing properties in the city are inverted. Instead of developers searching out properties where they can realize their objectives, the city determines its own objectives for a parcel then advertises the project to developers.
To enter the program, the city must send people to RRC training. City Manager Todd Campbell and Business Ambassador Micki Jo Bennett recently completed the training and Saline Main Street Director Riley Hollenbaugh went through the training over a year ago.
After training, the city is asked to go through a detailed self-evaluation process. This will take considerable city staff time, but staff can be assisted by community volunteers.
A panel of experts review the evaluation and deficiencies are noted. They ask the city to work on what is lacking and to supply quarterly progress reports. When all is complete the city receives certification.
Both Campbell and Bennett felt that Saline is already a long way along in practicing the things RRC suggests.
“Some of these practices we already do – a lot of them – most of them,” Campbell said. “But they’re not all in plan form as this program wants it.”
However, certification does provide some advantages. One of them is free guidance and marketing assistance provided by RRC.
“Basically what it’s doing is having, in my opinion, another set of eyes come in to make sure we’re doing everything we can to attract a developer who might not be looking at Saline,” Bennett said.
“I really think it’s a great tool for cities to use to attract potential developers,” Hollenbaugh said.
Certification tells developers that the city is ready to work with them. In addition, grants from MSHDA and MEDC are more likely to be awarded to certified cities.
After the presentation, council members asked a number of questions. Among other things, Parkkonen assured them that certification was cost-free except for staff time.
Campbell spoke about how the city filed an application for this program three years ago and was rejected. He acknowledged that the program has since been revised and the process is very different now.
Still Campbell seems to have some hesitation about how much the city stands to gain compared to the work involved in becoming certified. Council member David Rhoads asked if it would be possible for the city to opt out along the way if they decided the process was becoming too burdensome and he was assured that they could.
The staff most affected by this process would be Bennett and City Engineer Gary Roubal. Bennett is currently conducting a time-consuming audit and Roubal is deeply involved with the MDOT project on Michigan Avenue, so neither have much free time now.
Council decided that it would be OK to wait until late fall or early winter to begin the evaluation process. This would allow city staff time to complete the demanding assignments occupying them now.