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Then & Now: Fenton DDA Helping Shape Future of Downtown

Merchants discuss the issues and the Downtown Development Authority director shares the vision for Fenton.

On a hot summer day in downtown Fenton, one is likely to see families filing into the Jack R. Winegarden Library for books, DVDs or some time on the Internet, or entering the candy store for a tasty treat.

People flock from all around to share a bite at , while others try their luck fishing in the park near the Other destinations include the post office, antique store, (for dog treats and supplies), ,  and Fenton's Open Book.

While visitors can find much to see and do, many business owners would like to see more people walking downtown—and through their doors. Terry Green, owner of Billmeier Camera Shop, is among those hoping for more foot traffic downtown.

"There isn't a whole lot of that, but it's getting better," Green said.

Mark Hamel of The French Laundry said more businesses are also needed downtown. Not everyone agrees on the types of businesses, he believes, but the most important thing is to have more of them. For several years, the Downtown Development Authority has focused on studies and infrastructure improvements, he said. These include lighting, the parking lot near the community center, striping the parking in the city, fixing the railroad crossing at Leroy Street, improving the parking lot behind the Old Fire Hall and purchasing the Old Fire Hall.

Now, Hamel believes the DDA is focusing on bringing more businesses downtown and drawing more people to Fenton.

"I hope all the things they're working on come to fruition," he said. "I believe people in Fenton are looking to see real, hard, physical changes.

The DDA, which includes a director and board, with the support of the Fenton City Council, is working to achieve the vision of a thriving and vibrant downtown Fenton. For funding, the DDA receives taxes from properties in its district.

DDA director Michael Burns said the DDA district in the downtown area consists of properties on Leroy Street that are north of Elizabeth Street and south of Sixth Street, properties east of Adelaide Street and west of Walnut Street.

The city is taking steps to achieve the vision for its downtown.

Key projects include , buying the former Republic Bank site, to establish the "Fenton Be Closer" campaign and working with an architect and with real estate consultant Jerry Mansour , said Burns.

"There has been a great deal of hope, especially in the worst economy since the Great Depression and being situated in the state most devastated by this recession," Burns said. "In addition, we are 15 miles from probably the most depressed city in the United States and 60 miles from probably the second-worst or vice versa. The City Council and DDA board really need to hold their heads up high and recognize what is being accomplished here and realize the fact that we haven't scratched the surface yet."

Councilman Bradley Jacob said he believes there are a lot of projects coming up.

"People have waited a long time to see something happen, and we have a lot of things coming to fruition," he said. "I think people are going to be excited to see something finally happen."

One can argue the first step in achieving a vision is having one.

In 2007, the Fenton City Council, DDA and Planning Commission created a committee to establish a master plan for the downtown district and they hired John Dziurman and Associates to create a downtown implementation study and established design guidelines for the downtown district. The strategies and guidelines that were approved by all three entities have been the framework toward the revitalization of the downtown.

Burns said they envisioned a thriving and vibrant downtown district. They focused on revitalizing the area that was ravaged by Urban Renewal by hopefully putting Caroline Street through to Walnut Street and building mixed use developments (i.e., retail and restaurants) in a zero setback format along Leroy Street, he said.

They also focused on redeveloping the northwest corner of Shiawassee and Leroy for a mixed use development. Also discussed were improvements to the community center, among several other tasks they believed were necessary to create a vibrant and burgeoning downtown district, Burns said.

The City Council, DDA and city administration recognize that to create a community that can compete in the 21st century, a strong and vibrant downtown district is needed, Burns said.

"The City Council and DDA are really trying to implement what was approved upon in the downtown master plan. When I first came here, it was kind of a running joke that I constantly heard about how the DDA came up with a number of studies and plans but never did anything with it.

"While I am not fully aware of what occurred before, I know that in the past two and a half years, the DDA and City Council have really been focused on implementing strategies set forth by the 2007 downtown master plan and are using that as their visioning document toward revitalizing downtown."

The goal is to build a framework for revitalizing downtown.

"We really started from scratch and the building blocks we created to ensure that we are doing things right and doing the right things is now starting to occur," Burns said. "The City Council and the Downtown Development Authority are now working together to do what is necessary to transform the downtown district toward something successful."

Jacob said Fenton has hired many people it needs to do the job. It's a good indication of things happening. "A lot of things have been in the planning stage for a long time. People deserve to see the projects that are occurring right now."

The right team is on board, Burns said.

"This really is a team concept, from the council, the DDA board, administration, staff and consultants," he said. "Everybody involved has an important role to play in this and we are working together to make sure the right people are on the bus, so to speak, as we move forward, and that tasks are being done correctly.

"The teamwork philosophy that has been established within the past two years is something that I am proud to say has really flourished, as this was not the case when I first arrived," Burns said.

To read about future individual projects, log on to Fenton Patch on Monday. To read about the history of Fenton buildings, read our story

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