**“Collaboration, imagination, enthusiasm,” that’s Dan King’s three word description of the City of Hastings Community Development program, which he directs.
If you are one of those who has enjoyed an event, benefitted from commercial or residential development, or just about any event or experience in Hastings, you probably realize it takes a lot of people working together hard to make it look easy.
Behind the scenes, the Community Development office is working with all of those groups to help make projects run smoothly. Collaboration, defined as “working with someone to produce or create something,” is the key for successful community development, King said.
That brings the three people on the staff into many different areas. King, director for one year this week, collaborates with individuals and groups from the city, county and state level. There are literally too many to name, and if he tried, he would leave someone out, he said.
When an idea is brought forward, from any direction, community development provides liaison, background information and quotes.
The staff goes to city council meetings, seminars and conferences and is always seeking ideas. “The more input you can get, the better,” King said. Some of the best ideas for the city have come from people visiting other communities and bringing ideas back to Hastings. The Spray Plaza idea came from the late David Jasperse who saw one in North Carolina.
Individuals with plans or questions can call community development and will be directed to the place they need go to move ahead with their ideas. “We encourage everyone to use community development as their first contact, King said. We can help you go in the right direction. We find solutions; that’s a big part of our jobs.”
King’s favorite activity is working with commercial developers, with financing and brownfield concerns and more. “It probably comes from my background in banking; I like to see it happen from the ground up.” Right now, he’s working on development of the former Moose property on Michigan Street, the Royal Coach building, a 40-unit housing development on Woodlawn Avenue, and more.
Volunteers and sponsors are critical to their efforts, and strong collaboration ties it all together, King said. “We’re a team, we’re all going in the same direction…the team effort helps the groups present events that draw thousands to the city.”
The groups who bring events to Hastings come back again and again and give generous praise to the city because they are made to feel welcome and by the work of the entire city staff, including community development.
Community Development Specialist Sandra Ponsetto handles public relations, marketing, news releases and grant writing. She also designs and programs the digital welcoming sign at the State Street entrance to the city. On the DDA marketing committee, she says there is constant brainstorming on how to best get the word out, including TV coverage promoting the city, billboards and print media.
Arts Events Coordinator Maiya Merrick is responsible for entertainment and is working on scheduling programs for the summer series of music events at Thornapple Plaza, Spray Plaza, Fridays at the Fountain and Summerfest. She talks to at least 100 contacts a year, setting up performance dates and conditions.
“If I hear about a group, I will reach out to them or they contact me.” She can recommend whatever the entertainers are looking for while in town.
“If they drive four hours, get here at 4 p.m. and won’t leave until 9 p.m., they’re looking for something to eat. I can help with that. They can focus on their show and I can help with any other things they may need.”
Ponsetto and Merrick always welcome ideas too.
“We always return phone calls,” Merrick said. Or, Ponsetto can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. Merrick is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Arts Events Coordinator Maiya Merrick, Community Development Director Dan King and Community Development Specialist Sandra Ponsetto pose for a photo at Hastings City Hall