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Lofts on Rowe developer seeks block grant

The Ludington City Council will host a public hearing on the pursuit of state Community Block Grant for the Lofts on Rowe project at 801 N. Rowe St. during its regular meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Monday via the Zoom video-conference application..

To take part in the meeting through Zoom, use the code 886 6823 3133. People can also call into the meeting to listen and participate in public comment by dialing (312) 626-6799 and using the same code as the video users.

Michigan Community Capital, the nonprofit developer of the Lofts on Lowe project, is asking the city to pursue a community block grant in the amount of $2 million on its behalf.

The total cost of the 65-unit housing project is reported to be more than $10 million.

The project previously received a Community Block Grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s strategic fund in the amount of $2 million — half of what Michigan Community Capital was seeking. The developer is now pursuing the remaining half of the grant.

The property — formerly the Haskell Building or Wolverine Building — is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is one of a handful of sites in Mason County on the register. It was built around 1890, and was primarily used for manufacturing.

Last month, it sought and achieved an amendment to its Brownfield Redevelopment Plan to allow for the interest for the project to be added to the total refinancing through the Brownfield. It was done in response to the lower amount in Community Development Block Grant funds.

The property has also received a tax credit through the Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA) from the city, freezing the taxable value for 12 years.

The building was donated to Michigan Community Capital for the project by Ron and Dawn Sarto, and the process to convert the building into apartments began in mid-2019.

The city has sought a Community Block Grant on behalf of developers and itself. The city received $2.1 million in those grant funds for the Legacy Plaza project on what was James Street between Ludington Avenue and Court Street. Grants were also sought to assist in the renovation in three buildings to create 12 apartments, and the grant amount sought was $720,000.

2021 Budget

The council will consider the 2021 budget as well as the capital improvement plan. Part of the consideration will be setting a public hearing for Thursday, Dec. 7 on both the budget and capital improvement plan.

The 94-page budget is for three years that City Manager Mitch Foster noted addresses immediate issues while also keeping an eye on potential future needs and trends. Foster noted that he believes revenues in the general fund will be down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the decrease is cushioned by an increase in tax revenues. Nearly three-quarters of the revenue for the city comes from taxes.

The capital improvement program is also listed for three years, with the biggest expenses expected for 2021 being replacing lead service lines through the water departments maintenance ($500,000), building a new restroom and fish cleaning station at the Loomis Street boat launch ($394,500) construction of a new salt barn ($305,000), replacing the F Dock at the Municipal Marina ($260,000), repairing the rubble mound pier at the Loomis Street boat launch ($200,000) and installing a new generator for the water treatment plant ($200,000).

No parking zone

The council will consider a request to create a no parking zone near Lakeview Elementary School.

Ludington Police Officer Chad Skiba, in a memo to the council, is requesting that a no parking zone be established in the 400 block of North Lewis Street at the southeast corner of the school property extending to the northeast cover of the property. Skiba wrote that the zone would only be in effect during the calendar year.

Skiba stated that the school allows parents to drop off students on the east side of the complex. He wrote that parents would drop off between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. and pick up between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.

Remote public meetings

Foster will present a resolution for consideration about remote public meetings.

The resolution covers what is allowable under the recently amended Open Meetings Act, which allows public bodies to meet remotely under specific circumstances.

Community stabilization plan

Mayor Steve Miller has a letter for the council to review that is to be forwarded to Gov. Gretch Whitmer and the state legislature in support of a community stabilization plan.

The Michigan Municipal League sent a draft letter that is included with the Ludington City Council packet that describes extending changes in the Open Meetings Act past the end of the year, allowing for changes that somehow permit the 24 cities that collect income tax to make up a projected shortfall and changing the Headlee Amendment to allow for upward and downward fluctuations in millage rates.

Jeff Kiessel | daily news

A special mailbox was delivered to Ludington Friday by the Ludington Department of Public Works. The mailbox is for children’s letters to Santa and will be out during the holiday season.

Special delivery

WSCC small business panel highlights 'struggles' and 'silver linings' of pandemic

West Shore Community College held a Zoom panel with local business managers and economic development leaders called “COVID in Our Community: Business Q&A” Thursday evening to discuss how the pandemic has impacted the local economy.

Though the attendance was small — five people tuned in — the moderator for the panel, Renee Snodgrass, said she hopes people will watch the video online. Snodgrass is the director of library services at the college.

She introduced the panel, then asked them to explain ways the pandemic had affected their work or community.

“We’ve all heard on the national news how businesses are struggling. My hope is that we can take on this huge issue and bring it to a local level by talking to experts and business owners in our own community,” Snodgrass said.

Stacie Bytwork, president of the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, began by explaining how the chamber had switched to primarily advocacy work.

“We do a lot of advocacy work as a chamber for our region and obviously when the pandemic hit, that was in high gear. Looking back to March, we all pulled together to look at what we could do for our business community,” she said.

The chamber put together easy-to-read resources explaining the state requirements and searched for grants to help the businesses through the spring shut down.

She said the seasonal businesses had staffing issues in the beginning and many businesses were concerned about revenue streams during the closure.

“When this hit, everyone was inundated with so much information. What we did was compiled all that in an easy-read for our businesses,” she said. “We tried to be that No. 1 resource.”

While many sectors were impacted, she said the hospitality and service industries have had an especially difficult time.

“But I don’t want to make it gloom-and-doom because a lot of our business got creative with online orders, curbside and delivery... (doing) Facebook Lives to promote their products,” she said.

Snodgrass asked Bytwork if there were any businesses that did unexpectedly well.

Manistee was open during the busiest summer months, which Bytwork said attracted many customers for downtown retailers.

“A lot of our summer residents were staying longer or more permanently,” she said. “Also, some of our manufacturing pivoted to (making) PPE.”

And that was the theme of the panel — though there have been struggles, there were unexpected positive outcomes from the pandemic.

Jen Tooman, marketing and communications director of the Downtown Ludington Board, said she saw the same developments.

“We also saw that lengthened stay from our summer residents because they could work remotely, and their kids were going to school remotely,” Tooman said. “From the retail standpoint, from September to October, many businesses had record-breaking months.”

These were “silver linings.”

Downtown Ludington had four new stores open during the pandemic. Tooman said she saw these team up with established businesses for events and promotions.

“We call it ping-ponging — telling other people about the business next-door,” she said.

The community also supported the businesses.

“They came out in droves to support the businesses when they were shut down,” she said.

Tooman said they did two rounds of gift card promotions in the spring that totaled in $25,000 purchased through Downtown Ludington. Sponsors also donated money for incentive “Downtown Dollars.”

“The total was over $30,000 we were able to pour into Downtown Ludington,” she said. “There were some good things. We’re coming together as a community, and we’ll get through it.”

Downtown Ludington is made primarily of “mom-and-pop shops” of food service, retail and professional services — roughly 200 total. She said the sectors that were hit the hardest were food service and gyms.

“Not only being shut down now, again, but also being at only 50 percent (capacity) all summer,” she said. “Our bars and gyms that couldn’t be open for months saw the biggest hit there. Now, they are getting creative.”

Tooman said the retailers, like in Manistee, seemed to be doing better economically despite supply chain issues. Hotels saw dips in the earlier months, but had strong numbers July through October.

“(Retailers) had the online stores and were allowed to open,” she said. “It’s not affecting everyone the same way.”

Tooman said her job also changed. When events were canceled, the main focus became getting businesses through this period and looking at the upcoming months. A “creative solution” they came up with was a holiday gift-guide, available on the Downtown Ludington website.

“We were nervous about... what we would see in the spring if our businesses didn’t make enough to get through January, February and March, and now there’s another shutdown in place,” she said.

Jamie Adam, Ludington Bay Brewing Company sales and events manager, shared how the pandemic impacted the local brewery.

“Two days before St. Patrick’s Day we were forced to shut down,” she said. “It was tough. We shut down in March and had to switch from a full bar-restaurant to carry out. We weren’t used to putting everything in a package and sending it out the door.”

The restaurant part of the business had to adjust, especially the menu.

“You aren’t going to put salmon in a to-go container,” she said.

When Ludington Bay opened, there were several other restaurants that did not.

“That’s a huge loss,” she said.

But it did give the restaurant a boost in sales.

“It was still difficult,” she said. “People were waiting in line. People were coming from Chicago and across the state, and because they were on vacation, they thought they didn’t need to wear a mask.”

She said it was a constant battle getting people to wear masks until it was made mandatory by the state.

The brewery was normally open seven days a week, but with the additional stress for the employees, they decided to close on Tuesdays.

“We needed a mental health day,” she said. “It worked out for us. We still saw great numbers in June, July and August.”

Ludington Bay asked the city for a larger patio space when it was able to re-open, which added seating for 20 additional people.

Now that the weather is cooling, business is slowing, she said.

“There’s less traffic and it’s tough, and Sunday night they decided we’re done for another three weeks,” Adam said. “Overall, we will be closed for four months... of the year. That’s a long time, but we’ll get through it. There’s nothing you can do but adapt.”

Another major change for Ludington Bay was the halt of brewery distribution sales when the bars and restaurants closed.

“We weren’t selling kegs of beer... which meant we lost 35 to 45 percent of our distribution sales. That turned everything into package sales,” she said.

Like the retail stores, they’ve had demand and supply issues, including getting aluminum cans for the beer.

She said the launch of a new beer, Badger Blue, in May was a success.

“It blew up so much that we had supply chain issues,” she said.

Snodgrass asked Tyler Hillier, of Wagner Home and Outdoor, which does construction remodeling and lawn care in Ludington, if they had any issues finding supplies.

“When this whole pandemic started, we shut down. When we got going, because everyone else was shut down — lumber, nails and screws suppliers — prices skyrocketed,” he said. “Supplies are costing more money and taking longer to get to us, so that’s pushed jobs back.”

Other than the hurdle of getting supplies, Hillier said his industry is booming.

“We’ve been busier now that we ever have been,” he said. “People are staying home, thinking about the remodels they want to do to their house or yard work they want to get done.”

Those “snowbirds” who aren’t returning south are providing additional work, he said.

Online orders have also made a difference for the business.

“We go through Lowes, Home Depot, Carter Lumber. They’re doing the online orders and even delivering supplies to us so there’s minimal contact,” Hillier said. “The online helps a lot. We order the supplies we need for that one job, it’s delivered to us and we’re ready to work,” he said.

The panel also discussed improving morale, staffing shortages and the what it takes to shut down and reopen.

All four panelists said they hoped some of the changes like delivery and online ordering would stick around, even after the pandemic.

Snodgrass asked, in closing, what people could do to help the small businesses and local economy.

Hillier summarize their responses {—} “Keep us busy. Support local businesses. Stay safe.”

The full panel discussion video will be available on the West Shore Community College Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Local group prepares Mason County internet connection survey

Broadband. Internet. Connectivity. Throughout the pandemic, terms have been mentioned as sources of frustration — specifically, the lack of accessibility in rural areas.

The issue is wide-spread, impacting schools, businesses, farms, health services and more, according to Monica Schuyler, executive director of the Pennies from Heaven Foundation.

Pennies from Heaven is one of several parties investing in a survey to determine locations in the county that do not have an internet connection capability.

Early in the pandemic, an informal group of nonprofits and community leaders came together to connect resources in order to serve Mason County during a challenging time.

“At these meetings, broadband internet access kept coming up as an issue for schools, for telehealth appointments, for businesses doing remote work,” Schuyler said. “A small group of people within that larger team said, ‘We really want to look at this and see what we can do.’”

Schuyler said the team, unofficially called the Mason County Broadband Group, decided to follow the Michigan Moonshot Broadband Framework by Merit Network.

The Merit Network is a “nonprofit, member-owned organization governed by Michigan’s public universities,” according to its website.

The Moonshot Initiative aims to help improve connectivity in Michigan by providing information on data, mapping, policy, funding, education and resources.

“(It’s) a nonprofit service provider that helped develop a framework, or checklist, that communities can follow to help improve access and connectivity,” Schuyler said. “The survey is one of those first steps to help us identify the problems in our community.”

Schuyler said the group, which includes Eric Smith and Patti Skinner from the Mason County District Library, and Jeremy Vronko from Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital, decided not to use a third party to perform the survey.

“We’re trying to create our own and the last hurdle is to ensure we are properly collecting addresses so we can map the results,” she said.

The goal is to find the “trouble spots” and then work toward fixing them.

“We’re trying to keep the survey short and sweet. We’re trying to find different residents, where they are located, what access they do or don’t have, which providers and fees they might have, and what they would be interested in as far as broadband connectivity,” she said. “It should be an easy 10-minute survey.”

The group has partnered with Western Land Services, a land brokerage firm based in Ludington, to assist with the mapping.

The Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce is acting as the fiduciary on the project. West Shore Community College, the West Shore Educational Service District, the Manistee Intermediate School District, Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital, Pennies from Heaven and the chamber have invested in the survey.

Schuyler said there isn’t a launch date for the survey, but she hopes it will be soon. When it is released, she asked that the community embrace it and respond even if they already have good internet access.

“The more results we get back, the better data we have and the more we can do about it,” she said.

They are hoping to capture at least 20 percent of the community.

“That will give us a good picture,” she said. “If we get that within the first month the survey is open, then I think we’ll get results back with a few months.”

Another early step in the process is to do a feasibility study, which will be completed by Aspen Wireless Technologies based in Maple City.

“(The study) looks at our infrastructure, resources and engineering to guide us to potential solutions,” Schuyler said. “It will be running simultaneously with the survey. (Aspen Wireless) has a long track record of being able to do this well.”

While the project is still in its early stages, Schuyler said they have discussed options that might be available to solve the connectivity problems.

“We are trying to keep our minds open. We know that municipalities will probably be a part of the solution in some way. We want to work with them,” she said.

Some of those solutions could be revising policies, ordinances and fee structures that are causing barriers for service providers to extend services. She said they will also be looking into municipal-owned broadband and grants from state and federal governments.

“There are a lot of different opportunities,” she said.

The final results from the survey will be made public, likely through Pennies from Heaven and possibly the chamber of commerce, Schuyler said.

She also wants to have a training and informational seminar explaining the results, but because of the pandemic it may be online instead of in person.

“(Connectivity) is important for the community, the work that we do and for moving us forward,” she said.

Number of confirmed cases in area counties

Number of confirmed cases in area counties

Mason County: 460 (171 recovered; 9 deaths)

Oceana County: 982 (539 recovered; 11 deaths)

Manistee County: 279 (108 recovered; 5 deaths)

Lake County: 156 (49 recovered; 2 deaths)

Wexford County: 432 (134 recovered; 12 deaths)

Newaygo County: 1,251 (521 recovered; 12 deaths)

— as of 4 p.m. Friday according to District Health Department No. 10,


Mason County PAWS is selling tabletop Christmas arrangements

Mason County PAWS selling tabletop Christmas arrangements

Local animal welfare group Mason County PAWS is hosting a fundraiser to benefit both rescued animals and the environment.

Mason County PAWS is selling white spruce tree tabletop decorations for $10 each. Each arrangement contains a live white spruce that can be planted outside after the holidays. All proceeds from the sale of these trees goes directly to Mason County PAWS to help rescued animals.

There is a limited number of these gifts, and Mason County PAWS is taking pre-orders on a first-come, first-served basis. The deadline for pre-orders is Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Ordered trees can be picked up from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28, or from Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the Pole barn on the PAWS property located at 3449 W. Johnson Road, about 1/4 mile north of U.S. 10 between Dennis and Stiles roads.

To place an order, contact Jacklyn Osgood at (231) 757-9219 or find Mason County PAWS on Facebook. Note the number of trees you would like to reserve and the day you would like to pick them up.