A few years ago, Dundee was not so much a town as it was a potential “stop” for the many drivers zipping along US23. It was a place to fill up with gas and/or fast food when necessary, a place to ignore otherwise.
A handful of the curious, or those who got lost trying to find the McDonald’s, sometimes stumbled upon the historic downtown, with its unique Triangle Park. Some admired the faded Italianate architecture through their windshields but, seeing nothing tempting in drab storefronts, drove on. Some would comment on the shame of it all, these little towns dying for the lack of employment and shopping. Dying for the lack of the things that keep the young ones down in the village after they’d seen Ann Arbor, Toledo, or even Detroit. Few remembered their accidental visit to Dundee, or thought to comment on it to friends and relatives.
Dundee’s easy-off, easy-on freeway exit was all that came to mind when most travelers heard the name.
Now, the “handful of the curious” are in the millions. They come from everywhere to be in Dundee. Throughout Michigan the phrase, “I’m from Dundee” evokes a smile of recognition from nearly all. Then, typically, comes a remark along these lines, “I hear you guys are really booming.”
Yes, actually, we are booming. Beautifully restored historic buildings, housing, interesting dining, and shopping experiences are all available. Hotels and restaurants, both big and new, are on one edge of town. A “new urbanist” subdivision, under development on the other edge, brings a variety of additional new housing about to sprout both from farm fields and downtown.
A muscular industrial park attracts worldwide attention along with a beautiful new high school. A new water supply system was built bringing ample water in from Lake Erie. There are plans underway for the expansion of the sewage disposal system. There are also many new streets and sidewalks, including an extra wide walk connecting downtown with the nation’s largest outdoor outfitting store. This store is a great building only slightly larger than the artificial mountain it contains within. Last year, in this village of 3,500, more than 3 million persons gazed up at that indoor mountain.
Quite of few of these millions of visitors wondered, “Why Dundee? Why did Dundee suddenly go from no place to “the place?"
Like most success stories, this one has many fathers (and mothers). What those who blasted by on the freeway years ago didn’t see was the spirit of the people. These people, quiet and unassuming, with all the small town virtues that are so mythologized in America, had a vision. Call it a, “build it and they will come” vision if you will, or simply call it a wish to make a little town a better place in which to live.
The city fathers (and mothers) mostly focused on their downtown and the area along the river. They had the area declared a historic district. They scrapped together the money to put in streetscapes and a stunning river walk. They worked to attract more retail downtown that was improved as well as worked in better and more prevalent employment opportunities elsewhere in the village.
They jealously guarded their border. They knew development was inevitable on the farmland just outside the village limits. They knew they had to control that development or it would strangle them, so they brought the land inside the village limits. The village even purchased some of the land as it was determined to control what happened there.
Momentum & Results
In the late 1990’s, the efforts started to pay off when two significant retailers, Swan Creek Candle Co. and Tiffany’s Pizza, opened downtown. Even more activity stirred in the industrial park and momentum continued to build.
In March of 1999, Cabela’s announced that it would construct the nation’s largest outdoor outfitting store here in Dundee. The rest, as they say, is history.
By the time Cabela’s opened in autumn of 2000, a host of national firms had announced plans to come to Dundee, or had already begun to build. More are on the way.
These have been exciting times in Dundee but, as “they” also say, "the more things change the more they stay the same." We are still a small town, with small town values. We are still determined visionaries working hard to ensure that Dundee, for all its booming, remains a quaint, quiet, and wonderful place to settle down and raise a family.
And we are still succeeding!