Hancock updated on downtown reshaping project
HANCOCK – There’s been some positive changes to downtown Hancock in the last couple years, according to some city representatives, but there are still some areas needing improvement.
During an update on the Reshape Downtown Hancock program Wednesday at the Finlandia University Jutila Center for Global Design and Business, the progress made in downtown Hancock and the areas needing improvement were discussed.
Bonnie Holland, executive director of the Finlandia University Jutila Center for Global Design and Business, who is also a member of the Hancock Downtown Development Authority, said the Reshape Downtown Hancock program was created as a result of another effort in 2011 called It’s All Here, which was intended to let people know about the businesses in downtown and what they had to offer. As part of that effort, a survey was conducted, which asked people what they liked, didn’t like and what they’d like to see in downtown Hancock.
Holland said what the survey showed was people didn’t think downtown was exciting and it needed “sprucing up.”
“That gave us the impetus to get started,” she said.
After several community meetings, a list of areas to improve on was created including: residential development and parking; waterfront development, streetscapes and facades; increasing business mix; attraction and marketing; and more arts and events.
The efforts to improve the look of downtown took place over the summer with 26 projects, said Holland, who is also coordinator of the volunteer projects. Various individuals and organizations took on the projects. Volunteer groups included students from Hancock Central High School, Finlandia University, churches, individuals and businesses.
“People got behind the projects,” she said.
The improvement efforts included more collaboration with Finlandia, Holland said, and as part of that collaboration, the university offered its Quincy Green next to the Finnish American Heritage Center for community use.
“That’s a huge gift,” she said.
Throughout downtown, Holland said there are more flowers and plantings.
One of the things shown by the survey about downtown was the desire by residents for free parking, and last year members of the city council voted to eliminate the parking meters on Quincy Street.
“People really like that,” Holland said.
After the first of the year, Holland said another list of volunteer projects will be created.
Also speaking during the update program was Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson, who said there has been much success with increasing the number of apartments downtown. In the last eight years, 62 apartments have been added, due in large part to the interest of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to fund building rehabilitation projects.
Many building owners have also taken advantage of MSHDA facade grants to improve the look of their buildings.
“MSHDA loves to invest in core downtowns,” he said. There have been improvements made to several buildings in the 300 block of Quincy Street, Anderson said.
“The 300 block has become a hot block for us,” he said.
A boardwalk on Navy Street is under construction as part of improvements at the waterfront, Anderson said. Another boardwalk is planned in front of the Ramada Inn. “Hopefully, in a couple years we’re going to tackle that,” he said.
One of the higher-profile projects the city took on this summer was improving the wall on Front Street at the north end of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, Anderson said.
“All of us agree that turned out real well,” he said.
Immediately to the east of the wall, Anderson said the historic East Hancock Steps are being repaired. There will be plantings and lighting added, also.
Another high-profile project was the reconstruction of the interior of 116 Quincy St., which was destroyed by a fire in 2009. All seven rental units are occupied, as is the ground floor business space.
More building rehabilitation projects are planned, Anderson said, including four apartments for the Masonic Temple building on Hancock Street, which has been unused since 1976.
Anderson said the owners of the former Gartner’s Department Store building on the corner of Reservation and Quincy streets is undertaking a renovation of the ground floor to attract businesses.
Anderson said one empty building downtown will be occupied again when the local office of Michigan Works! moves from Houghton to the former Lindrus Chevrolet and the former BRIDGE Alternative High School across from the Scott Building.
There are some buildings still needing improvement downtown, Anderson said, including the former JB Sports building.
“We do have a developer identified,” he said.
The Michigan Department of Human Services is moving from the former D&N Bank building on Quincy Street to the Copper Country Mall and Anderson said it’s uncertain what will happen to the building, which is owned by Houghton County.
The former Salvation Army resale store building at the corner of Hancock and Mesnard streets is empty, also, Anderson said, but there is interest in it.