New advocate for downtowns on board to unite vision, ignite revitalization

DEARBORN – The city’s Michigan Avenue business districts have a new advocate with plenty of expertise: Cristina Sheppard-Decius, the former executive director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority who brought national attention and investment to downtown Ferndale.

Sheppard-Decius is now the executive director of the West Dearborn Downtown Development Authority.

She is also working on transitioning the WDDDA and the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority into a unified organization and will serve as the downtown Dearborn executive director when the process is complete.

Working closely with both the WDDDA and EDDDA, Sheppard-Decius will drive the progress for a more comprehensive approach to business recruitment and retention along Michigan Avenue, and will be leading the effort for increased coordination of design and promotions in Dearborn’s two main downtown districts.

Branding the downtowns is also one of the first things on her agenda, with the goal of promoting more customer traffic and investment, emphasizing Dearborn’s intriguing and attractive features, following her successful role in revitalizing Downtown Ferndale.

Sheppard-Decius is a certified Main Street manager of the National Main Street Center. During her 15 years in downtown Ferndale, she oversaw growth, with more than 175 building improvements and $80 million in reinvestment as part of Main Street Oakland County.

Contracted by the WDDDA, Sheppard-Decius said her first goal is to engage stakeholders in the west downtown through face-to-face conversations, and to shape the WDDDA’s vision for transformation into strategic actions. It is the first time the WDDDA has had an executive director.

These same efforts will be conducted in the EDDDA to build unity between the districts and a comprehensive plan for revitalizing both areas.

Mayor John O’Reilly,Jr. praised Sheppard-Decius’ experience and looks forward to her building on the progress already made in the downtowns.

“It’s evident that our downtowns have had their challenges through tough economic times, as well as other circumstances that temporarily limited the potential in west Dearborn,” he said. “But in the last year, we’ve seen new businesses move in, leading to very encouraging growth in the commercial districts. There’s renewed interest, and even excitement again, from customers and investors.

“Now with Cristina Sheppard-Decius on board, we are in a great position to market the appeal of our downtowns and move ahead with plans to promote our city as a great place to open a business, and a great place to shop, eat and enjoy a night out,” he said.

Sheppard-Decius agreed.

“We are on the cusp of so much potential, and now we need to be even more strategic and garner more local stakeholder involvement to move our downtowns forward,” she said.

Listening to, and working with, businesses is key, she said. Engaging residents in the visioning process is crucial as well, since creating even stronger downtown districts means strengthening the entire community, she said.

EDDDA Chairman Dan Merritt is encouraged by the opportunity for the two Michigan Avenue downtowns to market Dearborn businesses more efficiently, while still promoting the features that make each area unique.

“It has been a very exciting year for the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority,” he said. “With the renovations underway at City Hall Artspace, our emerging identity as an arts and culture district, and the imminent opening of several new businesses, things are looking up for the east downtown.

“Now we can look forward to working with the new executive director, unifying our efforts with the west downtown, and bringing a focus to the way we do business.”

WDDDA Chairman Bill White echoed Merritt’s endorsement of Sheppard-Decius’ position and the new unified approach to boosting and developing the business districts.

“We’re pleased to welcome Cristina Sheppard-Decius to the Dearborn business community,” White said. “She has a proven track record, and her recent success as executive director of Ferndale’s DDA bodes well for Dearborn.

“Dearborn is unique having both a West and an East DDA, and leveraging Cristina’s skills and passion for revitalizing downtowns is exactly what we need.”

Sheppard-Decius is eager to produce results and to more fully apply Main Street principles in Dearborn. The Main Street Approach of the National Main Street Center is a grassroots economic development organizational framework for revitalizing downtowns that is used by more than 1,000 downtowns across the United States.

“I’m excited to work with the city, businesses and the DDDAs to capitalize on the assets of each downtown, guiding them to become premier destinations in the metro area again,” Sheppard-Decius said. “One of Dearborn’s biggest assets is the motivation to make it the place the community wants it to be.”