NEWCOMER – Ryan Madis recently attended his first Oscoda Township Board of Trustees meeting, after having been selected to serve in a Fellow position for the next 15 months, through the Community and Economic Development Association of Michigan.

OSCODA – Among other business at their July 27 meeting, the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees considered such items as a housing market demand study, advertising for professional civil engineering services and seeking out a vendor for website redesign.

Each topic was explained in detail by Economic Improvement Director Todd Dickerson, Township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer and the Community and Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM) Fellow, Ryan Madis.

For the first subject, Schaeffer provided the board with a $7,000 proposal from Vogt Strategic Insights, of Columbus, Ohio. It is for professional services associated with delivering a housing study for the township’s continued pursuit of working with a developer(s) to construct a multi-family rental project.

Schaeffer said the Economic Improvement Committee (EIC) reviewed the proposal and recommends that the township move forward with completing this work.

He also reminded officials that he and Dickerson have been pursuing housing developers continuously, for more than 20 months.

“Every developer prospected has requested third-party data or reports that substantiate our claim that the Township needs more market-rate rental housing options in our community,” Schaeffer explained. “Housing market demand studies are commonplace in the development industry to convince housing developers that prospective projects will be successful, for them and the community, and are used to pursue and obtain project financing.”

If approved by officials, he said that Vogt is prepared to execute the professional services contract agreement and begin work immediately. The housing market demand study would be completed within 45-60 days, and be included in an upcoming township board meeting packet.

Treasurer Jaimie McGuire noted that target market analysis was done for Iosco County in 2016. While she recognized that it is a few years old, she wondered if the entity which completed this could do an update at a cheaper price, given the information already provided to the county.

Schaeffer, though, said that this has been shown to multiple developers – and it’s simply not a convincing argument. But the Vogt proposal includes establishing a Primary Market Area (PMA).

According to Vogt, PMA is generally described as the geographic area where the majority of support for the proposed subject site is expected to originate, where the community services that site residents will likely utilize are located and/or where comparable housing alternatives exist.

Schaeffer said that when a study was done in Oscoda, the PMA was defined as Greenbush to Tawas. When there was a rehab of the low-income housing behind McDonald’s, Vogt actually did the market study for that developer, to be able to show the demand of the housing. “And so that was focused on low-income subsidized housing, and this is for market rate housing; not tax credit, not subsidized.”

And this, he said, is what the township needs to be able to provide to developers, to show the occupancy rate, the amenities, the rent one can expect and other such items. “This is the type of study that will be convincing to a developer, to be able to show the facts, as far as the demand for market rate rental housing.”

Dickerson added that one thing to consider is, there probably isn’t one community in the state – particularly in Northern Michigan – that doesn’t have a housing issue.

“And so, when we look at ourselves as a community, remember that whatever we’re trying to do – whether we’re trying to bring a housing project here, or we’re trying to bring the next manufacturer here, or the next retailer here – whatever services we’re trying to grow our community in, there are other communities trying to find that same developer to do it in their town, too,” he said.

In other words, Oscoda is essentially competing for the developer’s attention – and dollars.

Dickerson also remarked that this study will be one more way to show developers that Oscoda has its act together, the township can prove the data and that people should come to this community because their project is going to be successful. “And here are the numbers; it’s not just hearsay.”

Trustees voted 7-0 to approve the study by Vogt, for $7,000.

In another unanimous decision, officials agreed to advertise a request for qualifications (RFQ) document, for professional civil engineering services.

As detailed in the RFQ, the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport Authority (OWAA) operates portions of the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in the township. Most all of the former Air Force buildings are now being reutilized for civilian business operations. Even so, there continues to be extensive tracts of vacant land, and OWAA’s master plan envisions expanding industrial uses and business development onto the vacant properties.

This section of the document continues as follows:

“Professional civil engineering services are needed in order to appropriately plan for extending and serving new development sites with necessary infrastructure and utilities.

“The project described herein is that initial site investigation and planning phase. The information compiled during this investigation and planning phase will be utilized to pursue grant funding to assist with development/implementation costs.”

Schaeffer noted that OWAA is the grant recipient for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Site Readiness Grant, and that the township would serve as the sub-grantee. 

This arrangement has been approved by the MEDC senior project manager associated with the grant, and it is also obtaining final approval from the MEDC legal team, according to Schaeffer.

He stated that the township owns the infrastructure within the airport property and would be the ultimate grant recipient for future infrastructure expansion, allowing further expansion of the industrial park development opportunities. In addition, any costs exceeding the MEDC Site Readiness Grant would need to be discussed with both the township and OWAA.

“This is a joint effort with benefits for both the Township and the Airport moving forward,” Schaeffer said.

Since Oscoda officials have approved advertising for the civil engineering services, interested parties have until Tuesday, Aug. 25, to respond to the RFQ.

Schaeffer said this will allow ample time to evaluate the replies and bring a recommendation to trustees for approval at their Monday, Sept. 14 meeting.

Dickerson adds that, by preparing for expansion at the airport, Oscoda is actually making more opportunities available throughout that whole industrial area for existing companies to be able to take advantage of better infrastructure. “So, the end game is with the airport but, along the way, we’ve improved our infrastructure for our existing businesses.”

In separate matters, trustees also approved advertising a request for proposals (RFP) for professional services associated with the township’s website redesign services.

As has been reported – and as Schaeffer reminded officials – there have been numerous past discussions as to why the existing website needs to be updated.

Sealed bids are due by tomorrow (Thursday), with the idea then  being to provide a recommendation to the board at their next meeting on Monday, Aug. 24.

As outlined in the RFP, the township is seeking a single vendor which can redesign Oscoda’s website with a new façade, as well as an improved Content Management System that staff can easily manipulate to update content on the website as needed, while increasing user access to township services and information.

It was further noted that Oscoda recently completed a Community Branding and Marketing Strategy and it wishes to incorporate this new look and feel to its website.

Madis shared that he had already begun looking through the current website and comparing Oscoda’s to other similar municipalities across the state – paying particularly close attention to the requirements for Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) certification.

As reported, for part of his 15-month stay in the community as the CEDAM Fellow, Madis will be assisting in the township’s goal of becoming RRC certified through the MEDC.

In terms of the current website, he points out that there is still a lot of content which needs to be added, in order to be in line with the RRC.

Additionally, he notes that redesigning the website will make it more navigable and user-friendly for both township staff and those visiting the site, while also making it into a marketing piece.

In separate business, Dickerson and Madis gave several updates on  their work with the EIC, which included the fact that they continue to make progress on both the overall PlaceLeap tasks, as well as the PlaceLeap initiatives for the downtown plan.

 This includes efforts related to the Michigan Launch Initiative, rental housing, vibrancy grants, a parking management plan and more.

As for the RRC work, Dickerson says he is very happy to report that every single task has been moved from the “Not Started” category, to a minimum of “Active.” He is targeting the end of September to have an additional 16 RRC tasks completed, which would move the township to 84 percent complete, overall. “So, that’s a big jump.”

He then shared that there are three very solid entities considering mixed-used projects in town, which include some sort of retail component on one level, and residential upstairs.

Dickerson and the EIC team also continue to have conversations with a developer about a potential multi-family project, outside of the downtown area. “So, there is genuine interest in Oscoda, and people working hard to bring those projects to fruition for everybody.”