The Keefer Hotel in downtown Hillsdale. Col­legian | Julia Mullins

After four years of improve­ments, the state of Michigan rec­og­nized the City of Hillsdale for its efforts to make the com­munity a better place to live and work. Last month, Hillsdale received a cer­ti­fi­cation as being a Rede­vel­opment Ready Com­munity by the Michigan Eco­nomic Devel­opment Cor­po­ration.

Since it began working with MEDC, Hillsdale’s com­mitment to eco­nomic improvement has come to fruition as it joins 33 other com­mu­nities in the state to receive this honor. The formal pre­sen­tation of the award took place on Aug. 23 at Rough Draft.

Hillsdale City Zoning Admin­is­trator Alan Beeker said he felt  “relief” during the event. “It was just thrilling to know that all of the time and all of the resources that had been ded­i­cated to it had come to meet the goal.”

When the city first began working with MEDC in 2015, its baseline report revealed that Hillsdale only met 30% of the state’s stan­dards for a com­munity to be con­sidered “ready for rede­vel­opment.”  

From website updates to planning com­mission reviews, the initial steps took careful planning. One of the more sig­nif­icant early improve­ments included updating the zoning ordi­nances, which had not been fully reviewed since the mid-’70s.

“MEDC’s assis­tance gave the city the expertise and the man­power to look at it and deter­mined what needed to be addressed,” Beeker noted. “That pointed me in the direction I needed to move to make the amend­ments to get it approved by a council.”

Since then, Hillsdale has con­tinued making progress through the financial assis­tance of  MEDC. The majority of ren­o­va­tions on the Dawn Theater is being funded by MEDC through a $1.415 million grant. The Keefer Hotel, the 19th-century his­toric landmark which hopes to open its doors by the end of next year, has also been aided by MEDC. This stream­lining of devel­opment has greatly increased the attrac­tiveness of the city to outside busi­nesses and fam­ilies.

“We are investing in the future by pre­serving the past,” Mayor Adam Stockford said. “That’s why we’re a part of this program.”

Director of Rede­vel­opment Ready Com­mu­nities at MEDC Michelle Parkkonen said Hillsdale’s diligent work over the past four and a half years helped it meet MEDC’s “Rede­vel­opment Ready Community’s Best Practice Cri­teria.” 

“Hillsdale basi­cally selected them­selves,” Parkkonen said. 

Despite improve­ments made by the rede­vel­opment ini­tia­tives, the city has more work in its future.

“The cer­ti­fi­cation con­tinues to give us sources through MEDC to help with the devel­opment of vacant and blighted property within the city,” Beeker said.

The restoration of the 23 and 25 N. Broad St., the dilap­i­dated corner block next to St. Anthony Catholic Church downtown, will be the city’s first project that MEDC will aid after the cer­ti­fi­cation. 

As for the future of the com­munity, Beeker’s outlook is cer­tainly pos­itive.

“I see a lot more activity downtown and more evening activity,” Beeker said. “I see a revived city as a whole, but focusing on the his­toric downtown, which is what the RRC program is all about — bringing the people back into these cities.”