East Downtown Dearborn adding events to draw people to its unique shops in Mich. Ave., Schaefer area

By Sean Delaney, Press & Guide Newspapers

PUBLISHED: July 1, 2009

DEARBORN – While it’s home to City Hall, the Arab American National Museum and the future site of the Dearborn Town Center, East Downtown Dearborn has long lived in the shadow of its West End counterpart.

But local business owners and the East Downtown Dearborn Development Authority (EDDDA) say they plan to change that by offering a variety of programs this summer that highlight the district’s unique history and its eclectic mix of shopping destinations.

“When people say that there’s no shopping in Dearborn, I tell them to look around,” said EDDDA Director Michael Boettcher. “We’ve got a nice mix of everything here.”

The district is currently home to more than 187 businesses, according to the EDDDA’s Web site, many of which are locally owned and operated.

“I think that makes our neighborhood stand out,” Boettcher said. “There’s a lot to be said for personal service, and we’ve tried to emphasize that to local businesses. It’s nice to have a place you can go where everybody knows your name.”

But Boettcher knows it’s going to take more than a few friendly faces to revive the struggling district, which is why the EDDDA has partnered with local organizations to offer a series of unique programs intended to remind residents that there’s still plenty to do — day or night — in East Downtown Dearborn.

“District residents tell us that they would like more to do here after work and merchants open in the evenings want reasons to keep customers coming later in the day,” Boettcher said. “Last summer’s successful ‘Music Under the Stars’ concerts at City Hall Park show that people are willing to hang out in the neighborhood if offered fun activities to keep them here.”

This year, the EDDDA will be sponsoring another of the Recreation Department’s “Music Under the Stars” concert at 7:30 p.m. July 30 at City Hall Park, and recently announced a new partnership with Smooth Jazz V98.7 to launch its own series of Wednesday evening concerts in the park in July and August.

There will be two shows in July (the 22nd and 29th) and three in August (the 12th, 19th and 26th), according to the EDDDA’s new Web site, www.eastdowntowndearborn.com.

Alexander Zonjic and Friends will headline the opening show on July 22.

“Our businesses have been looking for a reason to stay open late, and the concerts are a great opportunity for them to attract new customers,” Boettcher said. “It should be a lot of fun.”

The EDDDA has also partnered with MotorCities National Heritage Area — an affiliate of the National Park Service dedicated to preserving, interpreting and promoting the automotive and labor heritage of the state of Michigan — in an effort to promote the district’s unique history through informational signs posted adjacent to local historic buildings.

“This is the neighborhood the Rouge Plant built,” Boettcher said. “There’s a lot of history around here…it’s really amazing. We have quite a legacy in East Downtown Dearborn.”

And while a part of the city’s past — the old Montgomery Ward building on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Schaefer — recently came tumbling down, Boettcher said he’s excited to see what’s developing at the site.

“It’s pretty cool,” Boettcher said, referring to the Dearborn Town Center development currently under construction on the site. The 125,000 square-foot facility will offer multi-specialty medical care, retail, office space and an assisted living facility for seniors.

“It’s a big project,” Boettcher said. “But it has to be — it’s going to serve a focal point in East Downtown Dearborn that, hopefully, will draw people to the area.”

The vacant Kroger store on Schaefer just north of Michigan Avenue could also be redeveloped, Boettcher said.

“That’s the next big lion to tame,” he said. “There’s been some interest in it, but there’s nothing concrete at this time.”

The building, Boettcher said, is still in good condition — much like the rest of the neighborhood.

“We’ve got some good bones to start with,” he said. “With what we’ve got and what we think we can attract, I think we can make East Downtown Dearborn prosperous again.”

Contact Staff Writer Sean Delaney at (734) 246-2702 or sdelaney@heritage.com.