Green, safe and smart: Riverview seeks to set itself apart

Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW – Green, safe and smart are strengths the city may use to shape its future as it looks to attract new businesses, develop its green spaces and leverage its river access.

Planning Commissioner Michael Paschke presented to the Riverview Economic Development Corp. ideas the city could use to build on its assets and draw new businesses to the area.

New tax revenue streams may be needed in the future to supplant the land preserve, the profitable solid waste landfill facility owned and operated by the city since 1968, which may reach capacity in about 10 years.

Paschke said Riverview’s access to the Detroit River provides it with unique opportunities to leverage it as an economic asset, mentioning the potential for marinas, fresh water marine research facilities, bike trails circling the state’s shorelines, and partnering with Trenton to apply for government funding to clean up and develop the former McLouth Steel property.

Riverview, with Trenton, Wyandotte and Grosse Ile Township, could form a strong coalition to leverage the river access, he said.

“Riverview is at an interesting situation because it’s got a riverfront that is not developed, even though it it needs to be cleaned up,” Paschke said. “The opportunity to get funding to go clean it up is there, federal grants and things like that.”

Paschke said since the property is located on the shore of one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water, it is a huge asset.

“We are really sitting in a situation that allows us to build and grow this area in a really interesting way,” he said.

He said the planning commission discussed developing an identity for Riverview as a safe and green city, with green referring to an ideology focused on environmental protection, use of renewable energy resources and physical green spaces like parks and bike trails.

“We’ve got the ‘safe’ part,’” Paschke said. “Now how do we want to develop going forward?”

He said the planning commission has developed a new master plan that could allow businesses to capitalize on investing in new energy technologies by providing tax incentives for locating in Riverview.

Paschke said the government’s role, locally and higher, is to provide infrastructure and economic stimulus, and not to develop businesses but to make investment attractive to private investors that fits within the city’s determined identity.

“We could do manufacturing of solar panels or wind turbines here in the city,” he said. “If you create that identity and someone does a search, they say, ‘Oh look, here’s a green city that is doing research, that is investing in small business, green technologies, and this is what we want to be a part of.’”

Paschke said the city would need one person to coordinate the work of all the committees and keep the city on track and to pursue grants.

Paschke mentioned developing bike paths to tie into the Downriver Linked Greenway Initiative, a community-driven regional effort to coordinate non-motorized transportation Downriver. He said Riverview is on the proposed north-south connector which runs along Jefferson.

“We are in the proposed area, so there is money available for the development,” he said. “The state of Michigan is actually looking at creating a bike path that goes all the way around the entire state. It would actually be the longest bike path in the world. So we would be a part of that and connecting into that.”

Economic Development team member Brian Webb asked how the city could practically launch those ideas with commissions that only meet for a few hours a month, and Community Development Director Dave Scurto explained that the city gets a group of three to four people, in an exercise which master planners call “plan to plan.”

“You have a committee to plan what you want to plan,” Scurto said. “It starts there.”

Team member Shawn Filkins said this is how they start reaching out to other city groups, the spokes on the wheel, with the Economic Development Team as the hub.

Scurto said you include a person good at grant writing, and the Community Foundation, which is a proponent of bike path initiatives.

“We grab what everybody is doing and be the glue that holds them together, but with a commitment that we want to be the green, clean safe city,” Scurto said.

Paschke said if the city develops itself as a hotbed for research and green technology, that encourages people and organizations with private funding to become a part of it.

Swift said the city needs to also focus on incentives to bring economic development into the city, which he said should be a top priority.

Paschke mentioning forming a small business start up accelerator with Grosse Ile, Trenton and Wyandotte, modeled after Windsor’s downtown accelerator, for which he serves on the board. He said helping business start-ups creates community jobs.

“You start with something small, like doing this bike path, and doing it really innovative, so people want to go see it,” Paschke said.