The Flint Downtown Development Authority is dedicated to the economic development and historical preservation of Flint’s Downtown area; but perhaps the most fun, behind-the-scenes work they do, is decorating for the holiday season. Gerard Burnash, the Flint DDA’s Executive Director for six years, loves lights, and he has taken pride in the sprucing up Downtown and surrounding areas.
The Flint DDA was established in 1979, following Public Act 197 from 1975. The preamble states: The purpose of the City of Flint Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is to act in accordance with Act 197 of the Public Acts of 1975 (“Act 197”), as such statute may be amended from time to time, including: To correct and prevent deterioration in the downtown district; to encourage historical preservation, to create and implement development plans in the district, to promote economic growth and redevelopment of the district, and to encourage the expansion of commercial enterprises in the downtown district.
With this Act and working with many other local organizations, such as the Keep Genesee County Beautiful, the Flint DDA is dedicated to bringing people to the Downtown area. And when out-of-towners visit, they are overwhelmed by the results, according to Burnash. “We’re helping to change perceptions,” he adds. “It’s hard to quantify how much foot traffic we get, because we can’t count how many people are down here, but I hear people talk about it; the decorations are highly anticipated. And that word-of-mouth feedback is priceless.”
The Flint DDA begins putting up lights around Thanksgiving, but doesn’t turn them on until after the Turkey Day feast. “It’s important for us to acknowledge the holiday season,” says Burnash. “People look forward to it, so we’ve got to do something positive. Decorating adds to the sense of community.”
With 50 evergreen wreaths and 50 evergreen garlands hung on the Saginaw St. light posts, switching the “Welcome” banners to holiday designs, stringing up over 10,000 bulbs in the trees, hanging six light-up stars in the Flat Lot, three maintenance staff and two office volunteers successfully beautify the Downtown area – bathing the city in a warm glow for the most wonderful time of the year.
“It’s cool to share that visual effect with the community,” Burnash says, noting that in addition to lighting up the arches for the holiday season, the DDA also lit the Welcome/Vehicle City arch in rainbow colors in support of the tragic Orlando, FL shootings earlier this year. Burnash’s hope is to continue to light the arches with other festive colors, like green for St. Patrick’s Day, to continue that ambiance and festive atmosphere throughout the year.
Each year since Burnash has been at the Flint DDA, they have purchased or replaced various components of the decorations through grants, donations, and parking revenue.
“Decorating Downtown is a chance for us to do something fun,” Burnash continues. “People feel better when they see the streets lit up. They tell their friends, or even bring their friends here themselves. And that’s one of the goals of the DDA: to bring people Downtown.” Along with the fun, the DDA wishes to bring a sense of warmth and holiday spirit to the city. It’s a feeling, an aesthetic, which only those who choose to bundle up, walk down Saginaw St. and be part of the picturesque holiday scenery will understand.
Uptown Reinvestment Corporation held a tree-lighting ceremony on 11/17. Flint DDA helps decorate the tree.
Photography by Eric Dutro