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Houghton Joint Council Discusses Redevelopment in the Future and Concept of a Social District

Houghton is preparing to break ground on the first large scale project as a redevelopment certified community, with the Lakeshore Drive project getting set in place. But last night’s joint council meeting focused on future redevelopment sites, and what a social district in the city could look like. The Michigan economic Development Corporation joined Houghton’s city council downtown development authority and planning commission for the city’s annual joint council meeting last night. MEDC’s Dan Leonard joined city manager Eric Waara to discuss re-development. MEDC works with communities to identify properties with development opportunity, and how those opportunities can address needs and desires by locals. As well as help communities maximize the potential for taxable revenue within city limits.

Three properties identified as easier projects for Houghton to accomplish include the chamber building, city center and the RV park.

The Chamber building was identified for it’s location just before downtown, and discussions with the adjacent property owner, who may be interested in joining the city to sell both lots as one. 

City center is a historic four story building, that offers unoccupied office space that could be used for commercial space.

The RV park offers a different challenge. Houghton’s does make a small profit operating the park, but city leadership wonders if the property could generate better revenue through potential development. The property is large enough that the city could consider splitting up the lots, or selling it as a whole. The other challenge with the location deals with what to do about the motorized trail that is used by ATVs and snowmobiles during  each respective season.

Beside the Lakeshore Drive project, Houghton has not set in motion any other redevelopment plans yet. City leadership will continue to discuss the city’s options when it comes to redevelopment over the coming weeks.

Additionally the joint council discussed what a social district is in the state of Michigan and how it could potentially impact the city. Social districts in Michigan rose out of the pandemic with businesses and towns creating areas that people can walk around the district with an open container.  Consumers would purchase an alcoholic beverage from licensed businesses that use specially designed disposable cups. Many communities such as Marquette, Neguanee, Coldwater, Grayling, and Grand Rapids have implemented social districts with success.

A rough outline of where the social district in Houghton would go encompasses the entirety of downtown. Starting from the north end, businesses such as the Bonfire would be eligible to participate, as it operates on the south side of Montezuma Avenue, the social district would reach to the Portage Canal. From east to west, the district would include the area between the Franklin Square cutoff road that extends into Lakeshore Drive, to the end of Sheldon Avenue at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.

While the district may appear large, the amount of public space where open alcohol consumption could take place is roughly a third of the downtown area. Likely taking place closer to the newly constructed pier and Houghton’s waterfront than other areas of the district.

There are a number of other rules and state regulations for social districts that the city would need to consider before moving forward with any plans. As well as consider the liability of having a social district, maintenance and upkeep for trash, and determining how the city would enforce social district regulations. The concept also works to give more people a reason to stay in the downtown area, and contribute to the local economy. Houghton leaders may work toward developing a social district in the future. However last night discussion was used as an opportunity to introduce the concept to Houghton leadership with all three major committees present.

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