New Main Street director dubbed Mr. Sigg-nificant
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The second story of the old Wooster, Ohio, Red Cross building remained vacant since the 1960s.
The last upstairs tenant watched TV coverage of the late President John F. Kennedy's assassination as she moved out.
Luckily for Wooster's downtown, Mike Sigg loves historic Main Streets. He bought the building a decade ago, renovated the upstairs and created four downtown lofts - one in which he called home.
Sigg is the new director of the Victoria Main Street Program.
He needs that Wooster experience to lead efforts to revitalize this city's downtown, which boasts ample assets, but also challenges.
"We're going to have to take a different approach here," the 59-year-old said. "We need to make it a place where people want to live, work and play."
Sigg knows how to transform Main Street. Eight years after he remodeled the Red Cross building, Wooster's downtown blossomed with 65 second-floor lofts.
Despite the city's population of less than 30,000, there remains minimal vacancy.
Downtown revitalizations most often begin because many buildings sit vacant. In Victoria, though, most remain occupied.
While thousands of office workers, or built-in customers, represent a strength, low vacancy leaves sparse room for new retail and other attractions.
"It's going to be tough," Sigg said. "We're going to have to get creative."
Creative is an adjective that followed Sigg from northeast Ohio, where he grew up on a farm, to South Texas. It showed during a recent meeting in his South Main Street office.
He sat in front of a massive Victoria map, which he hung on a glass wall. He rubbed his gray goatee, tugged at his stylish eyeglasses and tapped the floor with his black and white Converse athletic shoes.
"I think one of his greatest strengths is he can look at something, think outside the box and bring a whole new dimension to the downtown," Sandra Hull, director of Main Street Wooster, said. "In Victoria, he'll figure it out."
For 10 years, Sigg served as Wooster's city manager and on the board of directors for Heritage Ohio, the equivalent of the Texas Historical Commission, which supports Main Street programs.
In that time, he created:
A program in which Wooster residents could invest in downtown businesses and become stockholders. A wine shop, steak house and boutique opened with no debt via the program.
Legislation that OK'd downtown liquor licenses, thus enabling new bars and restaurants to open even after the city reached is license limits.
A community reinvestment area and enticed businesses to pour money into their Main Street buildings rather than relocate. In exchange, businesses secured current-day tax rates for 10 years. Since, companies invested $60 million in the downtown.
"He even directed traffic during a downtown car show," Hull said.
That sort of commitment, coupled with a quirky personality and breadth of knowledge, earned Sigg a nickname: Mr. Sigg-nificant.
Even the city's newspaper took notice. It published a feature about Sigg, who rode to work on a Trek Calypso, a 1950s styled bike with old-school fenders, handlebars and pinstriping.
He likely hummed to Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band, a favorite musical group that formed in 1965.
"We absolutely made the right decision to hire him," Louise Hull Patillo, president of the Victoria Main Street's board of directors, said. "He is thoughtful, calm, and has experience with Main Street and cities."
That could prove fruitful with Victoria's program, which operates equally on private donations and city hotel-motel tax funds.
So far, Sigg organized the office from scratch, inventoried downtown buildings, held a planning session and launched a public survey.
The survey data, he hopes, will show what others want downtown.
That information can lure businesses to Main Street and spur incremental improvements.
Within five years, he hopes the downtown bustles with even more restaurants, retail locations and family-friendly events.
"Let's stop waiting for a white knight to ride into town to save us. We can put it together," Sigg said. "Victoria has a lot of great pieces in place. Let's figure out ways to make the best of what we've got."