The Boyne City Main Street Program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In 2020 we were presented with the highest honor of achievement, the national Great American Main Street Award, and in 2011 and 2019 Boyne was one of the Top 10 Main Street Communities in the country. It has been quite a journey from our Main Street beginnings in the 1980s to where we are today. Here is our story:
Throughout history Boyne City has had its ups and downs. It is familiar with struggles and overcoming them. This part of the story starts in the 1980’s when a frustrated local businessman called the city manager to complain that the downtown needed some help. It was not very well kept, and there were empty storefronts. The businessman got others together to organize a clean-up effort, and the first “Buff up Boyne” was launched. It worked well, and a feeling of civic pride gave the struggling town some much needed momentum.
Sensing an opportunity, the city manager suggested forming a Downtown Development Authority, and that got things started. The Boyne City Downtown Development Authority members had a vision, but were not sure of the best path forward to make it happen. Within a few years members of the community began to explore a relatively new national effort called the Main Street Program. Some even attended their national conference. Shortly thereafter, the State re-introduced the Main Street Program in Michigan. A few Boyne City locals traveled to Lansing to learn more about the State’s efforts. A mid-level city official came back and reported that it was going to be “too much work.” But city leaders disagreed, and thought it was something that could work in Boyne City, and the City Commission granted permission to apply.
Representatives of Boyne City did their homework, prepared the Main Street Program application and submitted it to the Michigan Economic Development Commission (MEDC). Boyne City leaders were invited to Lansing to make the case for acceptance into the Main Street Program. Then, the community was visited by MEDC officials who questioned why Boyne should be selected as a Michigan Main Street Community. It would be months until Boyne City learned the outcome. While they waited, Boyne City was again visited by MEDC officials who learned about the community and challenged further as to why Boyne should be selected as a Michigan Main Street Community. Boyne City answered their questions and sent more representatives to that year’s National Main Street conference in Cincinnati.
On Thursday, June 19, 2003 in a ceremony in Old City Park, Boyne City was formally informed that it had been selected as one of the first four Michigan Main Street communities. It was a big day in the life of our city!
But that was just the beginning. After Boyne was selected, one of the biggest details to be decided was who in Boyne City should host the Main Street Program? There were three main options: the City, the Chamber of Commerce or its own entity? After much discussion and review by all the parties involved, including the MEDC, it was agreed that Boyne City’s DDA should transform itself into the Boyne City Main Street Program. In a gesture that helped to change the course of the town, the entire DDA board and all the members of the local Main Street study group volunteered to resign from their respective bodies so that a whole new leadership group could be created, with a truly fresh start and with the initial financial strength of the DDA. Everyone was encouraged to become a part of this reawakening, and former members as well as newcomers were encouraged to apply for a seat on the Main Street Board, which was selected by an independent group of local volunteers and approved by the Boyne City City Commission.
With that, Boyne City Main Street was brought to life and with it brought new energies and opportunities. It provided the framework for change; allowing and encouraging transformations desired by the community to take place. As with any change, it was not easy in the beginning and some doubted the effort, but the new Board remained dedicated to creating the potential they saw for Boyne City.
In 2023, Boyne City Main Street is celebrating its 20th anniversary of turning around the downtown, and in some ways the entire community. Over the years, downtown leaders and hundreds of volunteers have worked together to make Boyne City the energetic community it is today. It took cooperation, civic pride, and unity to make the major changes that improved Boyne City.
Here are some highlights of events and programs that Main Street created over the past two decades:
- Infrastructure improvements early in our Main Street tenure, which, after a few months of having our main downtown Water Street torn up, resulted in a revitalized streetscape of new sidewalks, tree plantings, streetlights, benches and beneath the street, new water, sewer, power lines and other utilities.
- Impressive events like:
- Stroll the Streets, an exciting live music and entertainment event that draws big crowds on summer Friday nights.
- Boyne Thunder, a nationally known event that brings 120 performance boats to town in July.
- Buff up Boyne, the clean-up event that started it all, held every spring.
- Harvest Festival, celebrating our Farmers Market, live music and colorful fall harvest on the streets of downtown.
- Earlier Than The Bird, a successful holiday shopping extravaganza when participants wear their pajamas and shop at 7 a.m. on the usually chilly Saturday before (“Earlier”) Thanksgiving (“The Bird”).
- Walkabout Sculpture Show, featuring outdoor sculptures from regionally-renowned artists, including a prominent sculpture on the Boyne River that celebrates our logging history.
- The Boyne City Farmers Market, now year-round and acknowledged to be the biggest and best in the region.
- A façade grant program, which now grants $20,000 per year in matching funds to downtown business and building owners. Over the years, Main Street has helped with 37 downtown façade updates. The program requires business owners to complete building rehabilitation in an historically accurate manner.
- A historic walking tour, where locals and visitors are able to stroll through the history of Boyne thanks to historic building plaques on virtually every downtown building. Our downtown was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Boyne City’s vibrant downtown, with 37 facade improvements and exciting events, has attracted major new developments including:
- One Water retail/office development, including a destination restaurant, quality condominiums on Lake Charlevoix, a candy/ice cream parlor and professional offices.
- Lake Street Properties development, including a brew pub, coffee shop, hair salon and rehabilitation practice.
- 1912 Dilworth Hotel, which is undergoing a full and historically accurate restoration. The hotel will include a variety of rooms, a restaurant, and banquet facilities and bar, taking patrons back in time to its original opening, but with all the modern amenities.
- Upgrades to several downtown city parks including Veterans Park, Old City Park, Sunset Park, Peninsula Beach Park, and the expansion of docks at the marina.