Old Town Lansing fosters community through technology

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Old Town Commercial Association
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

To facilitate socioeconomic development through the promotion of historic preservation, business recruitment and community outreach.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

The Old Town Commercial Association is a nonprofit organization in the heart of Lansing’s historic district. Founded by residents and neighbors in Lansing’s blighted and forgotten North Neighborhood, the Old Town Commercial Association has been deemed a success and example of fostering entrepreneurial ideals to allow a neighborhood who continues to welcome small businesses. Many place the success of Old Town in its grassroots system of participation and volunteerism. Though that is the case that Old Town is blessed with an outstanding number of involved volunteers, those ideas have been able to come to fruition through software and technologies provided by Microsoft and TechSoup.

Founded in 1996, the Old Town Commercial Association was created in order to serve many functions in the community. At the time Old Town was the forgotten historic district in Lansing. Blighted buildings were left to squatters and prostitutes and the derogatory name of Old Town was given to the neighborhood. Historic buildings were stripped of the character and integrity underutilized or boarded up and left to crumble.

A group of artists saw the beauty in the buildings and their stories and began to buy up these landmarks of history. This began the OTCA, formed to advocate for historic preservation, business recruitment, community outreach, promotions and communication among neighbors. In the past year alone, 4,446 volunteers have logged nearly 3,000 hours working towards their vision for their neighborhood. 29 special events continue to brand and market our community as not only the artistic district of Lansing but a safe and welcoming neighborhood for families, artists, young and old to let their senses explore this wonderful community.

Last year 16 businesses chose to open in Old Town and as many brace themselves for the repercussions of the country’s current recession and Michigan faces the loss of automotive manufacturing that has sustained us for so long, Old Town is able to report 9 new businesses thus far in 2009 and more expected throughout the year.

The historic buildings that were once stripped of their historic character now house some of the most creative businesses in Michigan and one by one are being restored with $832,688 worth of building rehabilitation and façade work in 2008.

The OTCA is able to report these incredible statistics because of intricate reporting system that we have created using several Microsoft programs including excel and access. What is more incredible is the projects that are initiated, funded and executed by Old Town’s army of committed volunteers that allow these incredible investment statistics to exist.

Four committees address four areas of community development. The Design Committee provides three design services each year to property owners. Design services include schematic drawings completed by an architect that includes color samples, cost estimate and product information. Property owners qualify by participating in Design 101 training. Several property owners all over the state participate in this training so our PowerPoint presentation is transmitted via webinar to the home computer of several potential investors and property owners allowing increased dissemination of proper design standards which in turn allows for appropriate building rehabilitation in the community.

The OTCA office is a hub of information for potential and current business owners including resource guides that direct them through health department, financing and building code requirements. We also have a comprehensive list of properties, both commercial and residential, in the district that are available for purchase or rent.

Communication is also been a strong component of growth in the area. The OTCA distributes “Old Town News for You” and the Old Town Low Down, which are newsletters with different focuses that are written, design and printed here in our office using Microsoft software.

The thing we are most known for is our continual marketing of the Old Town brand. Working with area Universities to provide internships in Graphic Design, Communications, Public Relations, Journalism and Marketing to students we are able to work with a number of new technologies to bring our message of community pride, participation, and growth to the public.

This is done in a number of different ways. Our most recent, the I Love Old Town campaign, has grown into a great avenue for the business community and residents to express their community appreciation. What started is a simple request from a volunteer of a way to show their community spirit has turned into an entire branding campaign with merchandise, websites, logos, window stickers, events, advertising, directories, radio campaigns and more. All of this was created using Microsoft publisher and Word and disseminated through Microsoft Outlook, social media and word of mouth promotion.

Finally, Old Town’s biggest success of using our staff’s technical talent and the communities unwavering support, Old Town was the recipient of the IKEA Small Business Big Dream contest that allowed 10 area businesses the opportunity to have complete IKEA makeovers. IKEA put the selection responsibilities in the hands of the public and Old Town took every opportunity to get everyone who had previously proclaimed their love for Old Town to vote. Promotion began with PowerPoint presentation, advertising, banner and print design, press releases and more. Soon the whole state was talking about Old Town and the opportunity of a lifetime for 10 small businesses. The tools that Microsoft and TechSoup provided us allowed Old Town to receive thousands of votes and beat 350 main streets throughout the country.

The success of this small forgotten district in Michigan’s state capital has now been used as an example for urban renewal across the state. More importantly the success of Old Town is attributed to power of community when given the right tools for the job. Microsoft and TechSoup have continually allowed the work of these volunteers to be realized and here in Old Town has allowed a community to grow in a time of distress, become a safe haven for arts, nurture small business, and most importantly be a community among buildings.

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Optimize Mission Delivery
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