2010 GAMSA Semifinalist Rochester, Michigan

Façade grants, promotions, and a strong commitment to independent businesses are what make Rochester a strong Main Street community.  The Façade Grant Program provides funding (up to $10,000 per façade) to property owners who want to rehabilitate their buildings. The grants have spurred more than 40 building rehabilitation projects and other historic restoration projects. While many communities hold special events to ring registers, Rochester’s promotional program goes beyond that goal by designing events that give people a reason to come downtown. Whether it’s a free movie under the stars or dazzling winter fireworks, everything is designed to bring families to Rochester. Through Rochester’s In Town magazine, newsletter, public relations efforts, and social media, the community is engaged daily and offered memorable experiences. Businesses that open in downtown Rochester are seen as partners in the overall success (or failure) of the downtown. Rochester’s business retention programs include a quarterly speaker series that features national speakers, merchants forums, business assistance teams, and multi-media cooperative advertising opportunities.

The Numbers

Population: 10,467
Net number of new jobs: 1,250
Net number of new businesses: 225
Number of building rehabilitations: 80
Number of new buildings: 26
Vacancy rate when the program began: 35%
Vacancy rate today: 6%
Dollar amount of public investment: $50,300,000
Dollar amount of private investment: $242,200,000

In Their Own Words

Rochester is not immune to the economy. In 2008, many long-time businesses closed, and we were left with a business attraction program that was obsolete overnight. Our Starbucks was one of the 600+ locations that closed nationwide. If a national chain like Starbucks couldn’t make it in our downtown, who could? The answer was simple. We focused on what Rochester was built on – independent businesses. Instead of pursuing chains to fill the vacant space, we put out the word that we wanted a locally owned coffee house and the response was overwhelming. Within 90 days, the space was filled by the Bean & Leaf Café. But the story doesn’t end there. Many independent business owners contacted us and said they wanted to come to Rochester. Property owners negotiated competitive leases, stores recruited businesses from other cities, and everyone spread the same message – things are happening in Rochester. By the end of 2008, 11 independent businesses had opened downtown. This is an example of what happens when everyone works to achieve a common goal. Isn’t that what community revitalization is all about? The relationship between the downtown and residents is the key to our overall success. One cannot succeed without the other, but we can thrive when we stand together. The preservation of downtown is a priority for our community and that commitment is at the heart of everything we do.