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Downtown is changing -- just look


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Downtown is changing -- just look


Sunday, August 22, 2004

By James M. Miller


Some people say we need to tear down some of downtown Flint's vacant buildings.

I work downtown. I cover downtown. The problem is not that there are too many buildings here.

Downtown does not need more vacant lots; vacant lots do not bring business. If they did, we could tear down all the buildings and make a big improvement.

The problem is that too many buildings were neglected. Too many are empty. We need to get them renovated and get businesses in them.

There is not enough business activity in downtown, and the best way to get more activity is to bring in more businesses. That will be more difficult if the buildings where such development could take place are torn down.

The Durant Hotel and the Genesee Towers are two buildings that some point to as targets for demolition.

If you want to bring people to downtown, renovating those two, getting them back into use, would do a lot - and it would certainly do more to revitalize downtown than adding two more empty lots.

But as a developer told me, redevelopment projects do not happen overnight. It takes a lot of time to arrange financing, draw up plans and find tenants.

If a developer is using federal funds or applying for a historic designation, the paperwork process is complicated and can take a very long time. If the federal and state governments really want to spur development, they should figure out ways to streamline these bureaucracies.

And those who say there has been no progress in downtown Flint need to open their eyes.

Lots of things have been happening in the past couple of years. Many improvements have been made.

Yes, progress has been slow on many of the projects. I would love to see a new renovation started and a new business opening every week.

But things are getting done. Workers have been preparing two vacant buildings for a new coffee shop and a new bookstore. A new front is being put on the former Atwood building, and repairs have been started on the former Hughes & Hatcher building nearby. A new restaurant is planned for the closed McDonald's at First Avenue.

The facade program paid to improve fronts on several buildings downtown, and more of those projects are under way or coming.

The Saginaw Street streetscape project replaced cracked, uneven and deteriorated sidewalks with new sidewalks, replaced dead or missing trees with new trees and fixed the worst of the bumps in the street.

Replicas of the downtown arches have been up, and the arch committee did it without city funds.

To toot The Flint Journal's horn a little, I have noticed that some of those who say there is no progress downtown do not read the paper (The Journal just completed a $30-million expansion downtown).

Those who don't bother to keep up with what's going on should not deny that it is happening.


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