Dowagiac street project earns statewide recognition

NOW: Dowagiac street project earns statewide recognition


The city of Dowagiac beat out more than 500 Michigan communities to win a statewide award last week.

“The entry ways into our downtown didn’t suggest [the] quality of the downtown,” said Don Lyons, the longtime mayor of Dowagiac.

Lyons said when you used to drive in to downtown Dowagiac, the first impression was not impressive.

City officials have been hard at work for the last 25 years turning the city’s downtown into what you see today – a glimpse of thriving small-town America, where ribbon cuttings are routine.

“[They are] so routine, that today the mayor and the city manager had trouble remembering whether today’s ribbon cutting was number eleven or twelve for this year,” said ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz, in a November 29, 2016 report about the city’s growing downtown.

But right outside the heart of the city was an unflattering welcome, until a project last fall made everything different.

“It’s a lot better,” said Becky Ottinger, a Dowagiac resident. “It’s not as congested as it used to be. You’ve actually got more parking and people are not actually going to get into accidents.”

“I think it really looks nice,” said Jerry Gagliardo, another Dowagiac resident. “I mean, they dressed it up – it really looks good – and the parking was always a problem here.”

Commercial Street has been transformed.

From new sitting areas and more parking, to hookups for water and power, the area was completely renovated a few months ago.

Along with fresh landscaping, sections of brick and winding curbs not only give the area a new layout and look, but subconsciously help keep you safer.

“All of those cues give the drivers the sense of, ‘Hey, as I’m going down this path, things are changing; I had better be careful of what I’m doing; I had better watch more closely; I’d better not be going quite so fast,” said Lyons.

The $1.6 million project did away with three old houses and two office buildings.

It opened up that section of the city, and ended up earning the first-ever ‘Better Streets, Better Michigan’ award.

Lyons picked it up last week in Lansing.

He said it’s another step forward in the city’s goal to attract people to Dowagiac with more than just the basics.

“What they’re really looking for and what they appreciate is quality of life,” said Lyons. 

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