By Mayor Anthony Bosbous and President Tony McLain
The eastern Upper Peninsula is home to the Michigan’s oldest European settlement, Sault Ste. Marie. Founded in 1668, Sault Ste. Marie has a population of nearly 15,000 people. Sault Ste. Marie is also home to Lake Superior State University, founded in 1946. The University is known for its academic programs in such fields as fisheries and wildlife science, fire science, engineering, chemistry, and environmental science.
Sault Ste. Marie was recently selected by the Michigan Municipal League as one of five pilot communities in the State to demonstrate what local actions can be taken to enhance the community’s attraction in the eyes of today’s workforce. The Michigan Municipal League, through its Center for Twenty First Century Communities, has identified eight assets that can create a vibrant city. These assets include one, physical design and walkability; two, green initiatives; three, cultural economic development; four, entrepreneurship; five, multiculturalism; six, technology; seven, transit; and eight, education. As a result of the pilot project, and by focusing on the list of assets above, Sault Ste. Marie identified a primary goal of evolving from simply a town with a university into a true university town.
Since the project began over a year ago, a steering committee was established and named “Sault United.” Sault United is composed of community leaders representing the City, the University, War Memorial Hospital, the area and intermediate school districts, the economic development corporation, and the downtown development authority.
Sault United has already taken great strides strengthening the town-and-gown relationship. Four sub-committees have been formed to put ideas into action; a student/parent welcome committee, a sporting event coordination committee, a transportation committee, and a community arts promotion committee.
The student/parent welcome committee assisted this year in engaging new and returning students with the City in a number of ways. First, over 300 local businesses and organizations participated in “Lakerpalooza,” a vendor event hosted by the University. Second, the University offered free shuttle rides during “Laker Week” (orientation week) to allow students to “Sample the Sault.” Downtown Sault Ste. Marie collaborated with the University to host the first ever photography scavenger hunt in which students had to complete objectives like getting their picture taken with a local business owner, for example. Over 50 students rode the shuttle into downtown to participate in this event.
Another successful event was the first ever Lake Superior State University “haunted homecoming parade.” For years the City held its downtown Halloween festival separately while the University held their events on campus. This year, Sault United worked to connect the two. As thousands of children and their families “trick-or-treated” at downtown businesses, Lake Superior State University clubs and student groups paraded “haunted” floats through the crowds
One of the best outcomes from these beginning stages of town-gown efforts are the direct connections being made between businesses and student groups. Sault United board members frequently hear new stories about how students are collaborating with businesses and local organizations to complete class projects, raise money, volunteer, or find future employment.
Sault Ste. Marie’s evolution into a true university town will continue as Sault United’s subcommittees make progress in the areas of student involvement, sports, arts, and transportation, and the Michigan Municipal League’s support has been invaluable in these efforts. However, the Michigan Municipal League’s involvement doesn’t stop here. The City of Sault Ste. Marie has recently been chosen for a visioning and planning grant to develop a critical portion of the downtown that is currently composed of a number of long-vacant and obsolete properties. The City and the University, along with the other members of the Sault United committee, will be collaborating on this visioning project. One of the primary goals of this visioning process will be to lay out area plans that will aid in fulfilling town-gown goals.
Sault United is enthused to continue the work of transforming Sault Ste. Marie into a true university town, and looks forward to a maintaining a fruitful partnership with the Michigan Municipal League.
Anthony Bosbous is the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie and Dr. Tony McLain is the president of Lake Superior State University.