Vision for downtown Cassopolis grows with ‘Imagine Cass’

NOW: Vision for downtown Cassopolis grows with ‘Imagine Cass’

CASSOPOLIS, Mich. -- An economic development project aimed at transforming downtown Cassopolis is bringing the village, county and students together as it grows into phase two.

‘Imagine Cass’ is a collaboration between local community members and a team from Michigan State University.

It was launched back in January and is now in the midst of its second phase.

Nearly 200 people attended a meeting on May 9 to discuss the project. And last Friday, a group of Cassopolis students looking to open a business in downtown were touring potential properties.

“For a long time, there was a mass exodus out of the small downtowns,” said Emilie Sarratore, the Cassopolis village manager. “But there’s a movement again to revitalize your downtowns and understand that growth starts from the center and goes out. And I think that that really is the case, not only for the village, but for the county as a whole.”

As mapped out in this presentation, the project looks to improve the Broadway Corridor streetscape to make it more welcoming, transform alleyways so they are community friendly, and draw people in to an area that has in many ways become a drive-thru downtown.

“It’s important because we get a chance to build bridges between the community, the residents, the businesses, the governmental entities, the organizations, and find a common vision and then begin to deliver on it,” said Karen Folks, the Cass County administrator.

‘Imagine Cass’ banners now hang throughout downtown, as the community becomes more familiar and more involved with the project.

One group that is particularly passionate about it is a class of Cassopolis students.

They spent last Friday touring the old Sinclair gas station on Broadway Street, a local landmark, as they set out to open a coffee shop in downtown.

It’s part of a project-based learning curriculum the district is adopting, while working in tandem with the village and county to bring the Broadway Corridor back to life.

“I think it’s really important for all ages of people to be able to come in and have one community spot to be in,” said Layla True, and eighth grader who is helping open the coffee shop. “So I think being able to make the decisions is really important and fun.”

The students hope to choose a location and open their business by February 2019. It will be completely student-run.

“The job of this coffee shop is engaging the student minds of tomorrow, today,” said Austin Smega, another eighth grader who is involved.

There will be another community meeting to discuss ‘Imagine Cass’ in July before the final plans are drawn up.

Sarratore and Folks said having the project focus on Cassopolis, which the Cass County seat, will not only inject new life into the aging downtown, but it will serve as an example for other Cass County communities to follow.

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