• By Kirk Gaw

Support Improved Quality Of Life In Walkerton

Local builders, and developers have a rare opportunity to strengthen the local economy if they develop the many empty lots in the core area of the Walkerton community. Lot property owners seeking profits should capture the spirit of densification. Several recent polls conducted by The Walkerton Page have revealed a shortage for rental housing, single family residences, and duplexes.

In St. Joseph County during 2019, the real estate board announced a sellers market meaning, there isn't enough housing available to choose from in the area.

There is a good recipe waiting for community leaders who seek a vibrant downtown and the historic Roosevelt Rd. commercial district.

There should be a goal to better serve residents, businesses, workers, and visitors. From the 2016 published E.P.A document "Framework For Creating A Smart Growth Economic Development Strategy" Melissa Kramer identifies the right tools meant to encourage momentum.

She begins with an overview of key concepts for a smart growth economic development strategy. It covers the five steps for preparing a smart growth economic development strategy:

1. Select the focus area.

2. Define the context.

3. Set the goals.

4. Identify existing assets and barriers.

5. Select the right tools.

This step-by-step process for preparing a smart growth economic development strategy is based on six principles:

1. Make the distinction between “growth” and “investment.”

2. Be tactical and strategic.

3. Be focused.

4. Start where there is already motion.

5. Find the right partners for specific goals.

6. Communicate and coordinate.

Could this be the next intersection at Roosevelt & Michigan St.? Strategizing goals can help improve the historic business district.

Melissa Kramer says, "Creating a robust economic development strategy often takes a concerted effort of multiple partners coming together around a common goal."

Staff from the Walkerton Town Board and the town economic development director, commercial organizations, nonprofits, and organizations like "Main Street Walkerton" should seek to help revitalize the community. Stakeholders could use the densification strategy to help guide their work.

Building on empty lots presents a framework for information to gather, issues to consider, and potential approaches to explore. The biggest approach being inspiring the property owners through profit. Their investments of time, money, and other resources can be effective when targeted to an area that is both big enough to offer opportunities for change and small enough to make tangible, visible improvements that will spur investment.

Over time, small focus areas can be expanded to build on successes. Right now, the Walkerton community needs more residential choices, more premium office space, and new retail venues. Parking should be a tool for improvement but, not impede new developments when requirements can be figured in the tight network of sidewalks and alternative transportation modes already available.

Should the reintroduction of lodging be a goal for an anchor establishment to exist on Roosevelt?

Melissa Kramer added, "Existing businesses are the foundation of any economic growth strategy. By building on what already exists, towns can support current businesses and create a strong foundation on which to attract new businesses, residents, and employment."

"To tailor this goal to the local context, a town could interview local business owners to learn about their challenges and explore how an economic development strategy could best support their long-term success. Supporting existing businesses could include actions like adding or improving infrastructure or encouraging new or redeveloped housing that would better meet the needs of workers who do not currently live in the community."

"Other actions to improve the downtown like streetscape improvements, making biking and walking more enjoyable and safe, and planning activities that bring people downtown, can help retain existing businesses by broadening their customer base."

Some good examples of infill development as seen for the new downtown Carmel, Indiana. Mixed-use retail with apartments worked out well for their vibrant downtown.

Affordable housing and senior living continues to be in demand for the Walkerton community. The town leadership has a good record of meeting the needs of citizens as seen at Dogwood estates, and Michigan St. Assisted Living. Many empty lots around the downtown are ripe for business leaders to develop.

Encouraging Walkerton entrepreneurs to start business in the community gives them power over their own lives and lets them build wealth here. Business owners who also live in the community tend to spend more on local business services and keep more of their earnings in the local economy. They also have a vested interest in the community and are less likely to move elsewhere in response to incentives offered by other cities.

In addition to encouraging expansion of existing businesses, housing, and attracting new businesses, the community can consider where businesses locate within the community. Encouraging business growth in specific locations, such as the historic downtown, eastside at the empty Welco's lot, or the other core activity centers, on the westside at Roosevelt & Washington, north at The New Kitchen Store area, or at Koontz Lake can help improve the overall quality of life for existing and future residents, workers, and visitors.

This improved quality of life also translates into a competitive advantage for local businesses and is critical for strengthening the local economy.

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