Holly’s historic downtown was buzzing with energy and optimism on Thursday, as four new businesses were christened and welcomed to the Holly community. Village of Holly President Jeff Miller was inspirational speaking to the crowd, indicating that Thursday marked a new day in Holly. With the opening of these businesses, Holly will be back on the map and become again a destination for visitors from across the region, and that these new businesses will add to the strength of the rest of the community. At Capital Music, the last stop, he finished his remarks, “and now it’s time to get back to work.”
President Miller is right: there is still a lot of work to do in Holly, and now the focus of progress should shift to the “uptown.”
Hollyites have lamented for years of the lack of diversity of stores in our picturesque downtown, and also of the number of empty storefronts and occupied vacancies on main street. Our newest businesses have taken a dent out of those complaints—two new businesses (Capital Music and Blackthorn Pub) have moved into vacant locations, and two more businesses (Bittersweet Café and Great Lakes Artisan Village) have succeeded successful businesses and kept two storefronts alive.
Another Holly business, Morgan’s Boutique, is moving from a small storefront in Battle Alley to a larger location right on Saginaw Street, and Something Blue 4 U bridal boutique is moving next door to the former location of the Holly Candle Shoppe.
Although this seems like a lot of card shuffling, these businesses are positioning themselves to be visible and have room to grow their enterprises. They fill up empty slots on main street, making our downtown look vibrant and full, which attracts both consumers as well as investors in the remaining vacant storefronts.
Downtown Holly is on the right track.
If you go north of Oakland Street, though, the excitement and progress wanes. Holly’s midtown area and uptown area are in need of serious attention. These areas along North Saginaw Street, North Holly Road, and Grange Hall Road all pay into the tax increment financing (TIF) that funds the Holly Downtown Development Authority (DDA), even though they are seldom considered part of the “downtown.”
While efforts have been made to reach out to these merchants and businesses to be involved in downtown activities, like the wildly popular Ladies Night Out, the types and nature of the uptown businesses just don’t fit the “downtown” culture as much.
Part of this problem is structural. The Oakland County Main Street program, which is based on the “four point” development of philosophy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is really geared for the traditional, historic types of downtown areas you see across Oakland County, including in Holly.
When creating the TIF district for Holly’s DDA in 1990, though, the district included the entire business community within the Village. The historic downtown is only a small fraction of the entire DDA district. There was a good rationale behind this decision—the uptown businesses comprise the bulk of gross tax receipts within the Holly business community, and so why not try to capture as many funds as possible for the DDA?
From a broader perspective, a DDA program is fundamentally an economic development program, so making as much of our community’s area available for economic support services also makes sense.
There’s nothing wrong with these reasons, even if they skew the traditional notion of a “downtown”. They simply create conditions that require a little more consideration when conducting the normal activities of the DDA.
With our traditional downtown beginning to revive, it’s time to turn our attention to the midtown and uptown districts. These areas may not be as suitable for promotional events like Ladies Night Out right now, but they are certainly in need of economic development and business support.
More than a dozen storefronts in strip malls sit vacant, and there are as many businesses or open lots for sale. Rent rates and land prices for many of these spaces border on absurd based on the condition of the buildings and the current economic state. In the midtown area, there are large tracts of open land and industrial properties that separate commercial zones and break the continuity between individual businesses and the link between uptown and downtown.
The uptown has also sadly developed in the manner of an aspiring suburb. Homogenous strip malls and freestanding buildings are set back from the street, encapsulated by parking lots or obscured from view. There is very little “third place” space—parks, plazas or sitting areas, coffee shops or venues to simply sit and hang out with people, and walkability on the north end is much less conducive to foot traffic.
The uptown businesses are uniquely placed to capture the business of the 14,000+ vehicles per day that pass along Grange Hall Road and 10,000+ that travel on North Holly Road. This may not inspire visions of sidewalk cafes with a Petula Clark song playing in the background, but it certainly warrants attention by virtue of the overall economic benefit this district brings to our community.
Holly DDA Director Hope Ponsart and DDA Chairman John Winglemire have both expressed concern regarding the uptown areas and want to focus more attention there. Creating more balance on the DDA board is a good place to start, considering there are currently two vacancies on the nine-member board and only one of the seated members, Marty Lorenz of Holly Foods, is an uptown merchant.
The Village of Holly must also review, and possibly revise, its Master Plan every five years. The DDA should be involved with that process, providing input and being a resource for the Village Planning Commission and Village Council when determining what long-term direction our community needs to go for sustained and well-considered economic success.
The energy and excitement the Holly community has for our new businesses shouldn’t only drive us to support them; we need to use it and feed off it to improve all areas of our community. The midtown and uptown areas can’t simply be ignored or disregarded while all attention is paid to the historic downtown—those residents and merchants have a portion their tax dollars captured by the DDA just like everyone else does.