Douglas Business Leaders Take Conciliatory Approach To Addressing Economic Issues
A local realtor publicly apologized to his fellow business men and women at Monday’s Douglas City Council meeting as discussions over how to improve the economic climate of the city’s downtown centered on mutual interests and expressed camaraderie.
On a related topic, the council made some observations—some critical—about last week’s master plan meeting held at the Saugatuck Brewing Co., featuring presentations and talks about downtown, housing, waterfront development, uses for the former Haworth plant, the Blue Star Highway corridor and more.
Douglas City Council Member Bill Japinga, for example, suggested the presenters at the meeting did not fully grasp the reality of the demographic makeup of the area: it’s mostly older folks in retirement.
Asking for more attention to be paid to the population that actually lives here, Japinga said, “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to take part in an uphill battle to try to convince young people to move here.”
Douglas City Council Member Greg Harvath quipped he wished the master plan meeting would have featured “news about a new business coming to town.”
RE/MAX Realtor/broker Dick Waskin, present at Monday’s council meeting, has been outspoken about what he feels the downtown district needs if it’s going to improve its economic prospects.
Waskin said he promotes the idea of “concrete actions” by local government to improve the economic forecast, such as offering tax incentives, government-backed financing, or purchasing long-unoccupied buildings like the old downtown “Chaps” building.
In contrast, John Thomas—owner of Phillip & Son Jewerly, Thomas Greene and the soon-to-open Mixed Media Gallery—objects to “government intervention” while calling on local businesses themselves to take more action.
For example, he encourages restaurants and retailers not to shorten their hours during the off-season.
Referring to his January 13 letter to the city and Thomas’ response to it, Waskin noted, “I owe John Thomas an apology. Obviously he took offense to it (my January 13 letter). I wasn’t trying to criticize him personally; what I was trying to speak to is the negativity (that has arisen) as people’s discussion about downtown moves forward.”
While Waskin and Thomas have some significant differences about the best ways to improve local commerce, they both support the idea of having the overall business community work more closely with the Douglas Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
“I hope we can continue the discussion (with the DDA),” said Waskin.
City officials are taking that suggestion seriously, with plans already set to conduct workshops with the DDA.
Since 2003 when first implemented, the DDA “captures” funding through the Tax Increment Financing (TIF), money generated from the increase—and only the increase—of property value within the DDA district.