When Pontiac's Main Street Organization P.R.O.U.D. was formed in 1988, we immediately concentrated our efforts on the downtown business district which, at the time, had a 14.5 percent vacancy rate.
In response, PROUD created a mission of forming great working relationships with downtown business owners. (Today, we have decreased the vacancy rate to less than 2 percent). PROUD made it a priority to always listen to business owners' concerns, offer practical and creative ideas, and work with them one-on-one to help them achieve their goals.
In addition to relationship-building, PROUD worked vigorously on implementing the Main Street Four-Point Approach that immediately caught the attention of the business community. For it was this approach (which encompassed goals and initiatives previous downtown associations tried to achieve but had not yet been successful), the formation of PROUD, and an effort to build relationships that ultimately turned Pontiac into a city dedicated to downtown economic development and revitalization. Consequently, Pontiac began working together, formulating long-range plans focused on improving its unique downtown.
It is clearly evident that the Main Street Approach has facilitated great change in the Pontiac community. Major advances have been made, as small, rural, Pontiac has grown to be a popular tourist attraction. Throughout the years, PROUD has worked diligently to positively enhance downtown Pontiac economically and socially.
Heritage tourism is what now defines our community and downtown, as we have taken great pride in our past. Our commitment to utilizing our unique, historic attractions has turned into a very distinct and successful method to promote and attract both residents and visitors to our downtown. Recently, 18 historic murals were painted on our downtown buildings depicting our heritage and culture.
The Museum Complex has been one of our most popular attractions in downtown Pontiac. Because Pontiac is conveniently located along historic Route 66, we have successfully created a beautiful Route 66 Museum located in a renovated, historic downtown building.
In addition, we have the Route 66 "A Photo Journey" and the Livingston County War Museum. More than 2,000 international and national visitors tour the Museum Complex every month!
But getting to this point was a long and difficult process. Pontiac has overcome many obstacles, including the major flooding of the Vermilion River (which borders downtown), the possible closing of the state prison (which employs more than 600 people), the shutdown of major factories due to trying economic times, and tight city budgets that restricted money flowing to projects that received support in the past.
Real fear is a great motivator. But it isn't the fact that our community pushed through these trying times -- it's HOW our community pressed on.
A new sense of pride in our town was born. With the help of PROUD in providing opportunities and constant support, our community members are taking ownership of their town. They are committed to beautifying, restoring, and preserving Pontiac so it will forever stay the special place they are so fond of.
Success isn't just defined by statistics and tangible transformations. Success also is developing a sense of pride and passion so strong for a place that significant economic and social advancements are inevitable.
-- Fairfield is executive director of Pontiac Redeveloping Our United Downtown.