Tim Herman used to joke that he could take his three sons into the heart of downtown after 5 p.m. and play touch football without being disturbed by traffic.
“Maybe we’d get a horn blown at us once in an hour,” he says.
The daily shutdown in Flint’s business district left him concerned about funneling energy into an area that seemed to deflate when its working population left their offices. But after years of strategic effort and partnering with community organizations and educational institutions through Uptown Reinvestment Corp. (URC), he’s got a positive outlook. Along with the newly renovated Capitol Theater, Uptown’s many development efforts are a big reason downtown Flint shows ongoing signs of renewal.
Herman, URC’s president, was part of a push to boost the district as a board member for the Genesee Area Focus Council’s Business Round Table in the early 2000’s.
“That group was leading the charge on downtown revitalization, along with its partner, the Downtown Development Authority,” Herman recalls.
“We wanted to improve the quality of life for all residents in the community, but it was through the revitalization of our downtown,” says Herman, also president of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.
About 80 percent of business spaces were vacant and boarded up, and Herman could count “on a couple of hands” the number of people living in the area, he says. There was an urgency to increase jobs, encourage entrepreneurial development, and lure more people into becoming residents.
Today, as head of URC, Herman sees the fruit of his labor and that of his colleagues and partnering agencies in the past 10 years, including:
- $100 million invested in downtown to support private businesses and public initiatives.
- Management of six downtown properties.
- Anticipated development of new projects valued between $75 million and $100 million
Among the most significant developments Uptown has launched are restoration of the riverfront, a mixed-income housing complex with Lansing-based PK Housing, at the site of the vacant YWCA, and a hotel. The hotel and mixed-income housing efforts will begin construction in 2018 and are projected for completion in about a year.
URC is making strategic efforts to further immerse Flint’s 30,000 college and university students into the downtown culture through additional partnerships and direct outreach to young adults on area campuses.
“We’re fortunate that downtown Flint is anchored by these outstanding institutions,” says Herman.
The relocation of Mott Community College’s Culinary School to the old Woodward Building, in which URC played a role, will help increase student enrollment in the program from about 200 to 500 and possibly help increase its accreditation, Herman says.
Formerly home to a Burger King and retail shop, the building will be redeveloped for $13 million, using a combination of tax credits. URC will own the property for seven years, and then sell it to Mott for a dollar, Herman says. The college’s Applewood Café will be an added downtown attraction for students, faculty and the community, he adds.
Herman says increasing student foot traffic is a goal to which URC is dedicated. The organization’s response to demand for cafés, a pizza shop, located at Flint Farmers’ Market, and other venues it has helped develop are part of a targeted effort to bring youthful life and energy downtown.
“It’s coming…slowly, but surely,” Herman adds.
Another initiative URC expects to appeal to the college crowd is the development of a former Perry Drugs at Second and Saginaw. Herman says he can’t release details, but the project is among priorities for the coming year.
“It will be exciting,” he says.
Contrasting the after-5 ghost town where Herman once saw streets barren enough to toss a football with his family, 1,300 people call the business district home today. Including single-family homes in the surrounding neighborhoods boosts the number to 2,500.
Visitors to the historic Capitol Theatre, a “symbol of place and pride” that helped reduce blight and generates 82 jobs will also energize downtown, he says.
“We’re trying to create a downtown where people want to be,” Herman says, “whether they’re living here, working, going to school, or enjoying leisure time.”