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State funds bring downtown Alpena renovations closer to reality

An isometric view of what the finished Culligan Plaza will look like once the plaza has been renovated.
Courtesy Photo
Lenny Avery
An isometric view of what the finished Culligan Plaza will look like after renovations.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has awarded the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce and the city's Downtown Development Authority over $3 million in state grants. These funds will be used to help with renovations in the city's downtown.

The Culligan Plaza, which sits on the corner of West Chisholm Street and West Washington Avenue, and the State Theater, which was recently been renamed Sanctuary Cinema, will benefit from the state funds.

Lenny Avery, economic development coordinator for Target Alpena Development Operation, a partner with the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce, said Alpena is lucky to have something like the Sanctuary Cinema in the area.

"In rural Michigan, we have limited resources, and when one of those resources are off the table, people feel it," Avery said. "Having this theater has been a tremendous opportunity for the community of Alpena."

These renovations come as several tourist-attractions like the Pita Wagon or The Fresh Palate, have announced they're closing their doors this year.

The Fletcher Paper Mill demolition project, along with a housing and commercial development project on Chisholm Street, were also shut down this year due to funding issues and an over-reliance on potential grants, according to Avery.

The most recent economic shock to the community was the sudden closure of the Decorative Panels International factory, which laid off nearly 200 people.

Business leaders in the area stepped up to help provide those workers with new jobs and career opportunities, according to Interim Mayor Cindy Johnson.

Now, local leaders like Avery are working with state and local officials on what the future of the factory and its land will look like.

"Everybody's trying to figure out what's going to happen with those 75 acres," Avery said. "That's a pretty sizable campus that has had major manufacturing in this community for over 50 years. So, you have to look at what the environmental cost is going to be to clean up a particular site at that size."

Avery also said the legal and environmental risks that come with buying the plant, along with the expensive clean-up, might scare off potential buyers.

The next three years, according to Avery, is all about business growth and attracting larger employment opportunities.

Scott Rechlin is a production assistant and on-air host for WCMU
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