Berrien Springs leaders dare to dream

BERRIEN SPRINGS — Big dreams were on display Wednesday at Berrien Springs Village Council workshop session. Members spent more than an hour talking about what can be done to bring more people and more development to town.

“Tonight we’re going to do some dreaming,” Village President Milt Richter said at the start of the workshop, which he titled “Dream the Dream.”

He and other council members discussed a variety of projects, ranging from the upcoming Fourth of July celebration to finding ways to make the downtown more pedestrian and business friendly.

Richter and Public Works Superintendent Bill Dustin suggested the village consider spending money to spruce up empty downtown storefronts in order to make them more attractive to prospective buyers. Dustin pointed to Dowagiac, which has fixed up buildings and then leased or sold them to developers.

“The state has remodeled its revolving loan fund and we could match some of that money to help bring business in,” Richter said. “Image is everything. What is people’s first impression of Berrien Springs? It doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of retail or things to do if people decide to stop.”

Village Trustee Jesse Hibler said the village’s current efforts to establish a downtown historic district would not only help provide another funding source for property owners looking to fix up buildings, but could also serve to slow down traffic.

He and Trustee Kristin von Maur noted that doing things like having more trees lining the streets and constructing traffic bump outs at corners could also help slow down traffic and make the downtown more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

Several on the council seemed interested in creating a part-time village development position. The person hired would work with property owners and potential developers, along with coordinate special events in the community.

As for the types of businesses they’d like to see come to the downtown, council members think the focus should be on retail businesses that offer unique products that people can’t get online. One suggestion was to have a higher end consignment shop.

“We’ve got to get specialty businesses to get foot traffic,” Dustin said. “We’ve got to get stores in that people want to come to. Schug’s Drugs closing was a huge hit.”

Members also seemed to favor pushing again to establish a farmer’s market in the village, though past efforts have not gone anywhere. They suggested having a market where farmers, and even gardeners with small gardens, could bring produce along with local businesses showcasing other products.

On the marketing front, Richter said he and other local leaders have met with representatives of WNIT public television to feature the village in their ongoing “Our Town” series of programs.

“This is good timing for us,” Richter said. “We will work with them all summer to present stories about our village.”