Starting with the Core | Dean Emerson


Growing up in a rural setting in Freeland, I was rarely exposed to the “big city.”  On occasion, we would go to Detroit, ballgames, the zoo, museums, but most of my experiences were in small rural communities growing up. 

That said, I have always been amazed by the hustle and bustle of city life and the economic development that they create.  The number of people that can live together in those concentrations to improve their communities for the better is very powerful.  One does not have to look further now that Detroit to understand what a new revived urban core can do for a city, Detroit’s rebirth has been stunning. 

I recently bought a book on the history of Downtown Saginaw and was amazed at the history of our City.  There was one picture that has stuck in my mind since; it was taken on the corner of Washington and Genesee St.  That picture showed hundreds, maybe thousands of people in Downtown Saginaw, seeming like the whole City was there. The picture reckoned back to a day when Saginaw was a more concentrated city, with a density of people and lifestyle.    

One of my goals in creating the SVRC Marketplace was to create density in downtown.  For years, our city was a place where resident could live, shop, and work right in the heart of our city.  All things change. The movement of retail to suburban malls, decline in housing stock, crime and drug use, and loss of our core manufacturing jobs all played a pivotal role in the decline of the Saginaw’s core. But fortunately, again, all things change. 

Changes start small by people getting involved in their community and caring about their urban core.  Reducing crime, removing blight, redevelopment, and the creation of new living space and retail sales will again become a reality in our urban core, because, that is what people want.  Strong urban cores lead to strong neighborhood building in those cities. This also helps create strong surrounding rural communities to support those urban cores. 

During a trip to a market in Toledo four years ago, the vision became clear to me. People talking, walking about, looking over tables of fruits, vegetable and every type of meat, cheese and spice that one could want.  There were people eating and kids running through the food court and playing.  Local art work hung on the wall and the whole market was a buzz with activity.  I thought to myself, “Saginaw needs this, my agency and customers need this, and I have to make this happen.” 

It was a simple matter of determination at that time.  I sketched out a marketplace idea in my head, a vision, which began to take shape. I would refine in over and over again until it would become my goal.  I would sit and think for hours how to create such a thing in Saginaw.  I put pen to paper and started to write out my ideas, one draft then another, until I had spreadsheets and word documents. 

When I ran the idea by people, reaction was mixed. I was told, “get more help,” and “you don’t know what you are doing,” or “you can’t do it, Saginaw doesn’t want it, we’re not ready.” Despite the cynics, I redefined and redesigned what we were doing to sharpen the approach.

Our first real rude awakening was when my team and I had our first real meeting with Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The personnel from MEDC were supportive and they loved the idea, but we were definitely not prepared for the list of stuff that they wanted from us. We went back to the drawing board and got the help where it was needed.  We created strong partnerships and created a capital stack that would rival anything anyone has ever done in Saginaw. 

The SVRC Marketplace

The SVRC Marketplace

Our investment, the belief in Saginaw by people of our City, and the risks taken by foundations and donors made this happen.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you have to be willing to work hard! Convincing investors to invest in a project takes time, patience, knowledge of the process. These are the true measures of what you are willing to do to make an impact on your community. 

A developer has the responsibility of making a place that people want to come to and enjoy, whether it is for work, living or relaxation in a Third Place.  We have created a unique space in Saginaw for the Great Lakes Bay Region.  It is our hope that this Marketplace will increase the density in Downtown Saginaw for the betterment of this region. 

Just as any good personal trainer will tell you, first you have to build up your core muscles--then everything else gets a little easier.  Invest in your urban core. It will pay off for your community.