Downtown Mason, MI. Photo courtesy of the City of Mason.
Mason, MI, established in the 19th century as a small town center, eventually became the seat of the surrounding county while vying to become the new state capital. Although Lansing, located just to the north, was ultimately selected as the capital, Mason has managed to remain a small but distinct community while experiencing population growth of roughly 20 percent in the last decade.
“Mason is a very friendly and welcoming place where people take a lot of pride in the community,” says Mayor Pro Tem Marlon Brown, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council. “Ultimately, what makes Mason so special are the people.”
Mason’s character as a small mid-western community with a distinctive downtown, historic homes and buildings dating back to the mid-1800’s, as well as high quality neighborhoods are all part of the city’s allure. The city has a strong agricultural heritage and several farms still operate in the area. It is also the home of the Dart Container Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of foam cups and containers.
“Successful cities depend on clean, safe, and stable neighborhoods,” says Brown. “Local governments must also do what they can to keep people in their homes, keep property values high, and address vacant housing.”
A five-year update of the city’s master plan, completed last year, lays out several strategies to help the city grow more vibrant and smart growth approaches—including placemaking, public art, developing complete streets, a form-based code overlay district, and broadening transit options within the community—are among them.
“Smart growth has been important to us in balancing economic development and growth, preventing sprawl, strengthening our community assets, preserving natural spaces, promoting sustainability, and doing more to retain and attract businesses and residents to Mason,” Brown explains.
Mason has also created a brownfield redevelopment plan for the new headquarters of a local bank located in the downtown district. The 25,000 square foot project is located on the site of the former Inco Graphics building, a 50 year-old property that previously sat vacant and obsolete, and would allow for the environmental cleanup and reuse of the central property.
Another exciting project underway in the community is the Ash Street Mixed-Use Redevelopment Project. The $2.75 million project, half of which has come from private investment, will redevelop the oldest buildings in the city, which have sat vacant for over 20 years. Once completed, the project will stand as the largest building in the downtown area, comprised of 10 new residential apartments and 5,000 square feet of 1st floor commercial space, and preserve yet another unique piece of history.