Mark Gifford talks goals as new city manager

LOOKING FORWARD: Big Rapids City Manager Mark Gifford holds his new "bad idea file" given to him by City Commissioner Lorraine James. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

LOOKING FORWARD: Big Rapids City Manager Mark Gifford holds his new “bad idea file” given to him by City Commissioner Lorraine James. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

BIG RAPIDS — Today, Monday, Jan. 30, Mark Gifford begins his journey as Big Rapids city manager without his mentor, Steve Sobers. Sobers’ last day was Friday.

“We have a good staff here,” Gifford said. “They are great people to work with and I am definitely going to enjoy their help. We have a commission that is experienced, and that is something I’m going to rely on as well. I’m excited. I’ve enjoyed my time with Steve, and his leadership and mentorship. I am certainly up for the challenge and ready to take it head-on. There are going to be things that I do a little bit differently than Steve did, but that’s just the nature of two people doing a job; no two people are going to do it identically the same.

“I’ve had a great time working with Steve and will miss him. I wish him the best moving forward and I know he’ll do good things wherever he goes; he’s a fun person.”

Gifford would like to continue with projects Sobers would have liked to see completed, including looking for funding for the Big Rapids Community Library and the Charles E. Fairman Community Pool. These projects may be part of next year’s budget, which will be Gifford’s main focus over the coming months.

“I don’t think you start where I am thinking you’re going to change all kinds of things,” he said. “I think there is some period of time where you work through the system that exists and fight the battles and challenges that come up, but I don’t have any thoughts or ideas that things are going to be changing in any immediate future.

“It’s interesting how your perspective changes from one job to another. It’s a difference. I definitely have my thoughts and feelings on how we approach things and I’ll be going through with staff, the commission and the community to make some things happen. Big Rapids is a great place, it has incredible potential and we’ve realized some of that. There have been a lot of good things done and there will be a lot of good things in the future. I’m confident of that. I’m very thankful to have this opportunity and I’m excited about it.”

Gifford believes the many projects done to help the downtown grow have created a momentum he hopes to continue with projects like building a skate park, continuing development on north State Street and at the Hanchett property and maintaining or replacing aging infrastructure. He said the city has a great team to help make these projects a reality.

“We have some challenges — budget challenges and operational stuff,” Gifford said. “But in terms of projects, we have our eyes on a $2 million grant application with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for water main and road reconstruction for Ives Avenue. That’s a big deal.”

Ives Avenue is a cast-iron water main and is the only 10-inch main in the whole system, he explained. It has broken numerous times and Gifford would like to replace it. He also would like to replace a portion of the water main under Clark Street.

“That would be a big deal for us, something we would struggle to accomplish without some grant funding,” he said. “We have aging systems that need maintenance and upgrades. We are going to be focusing on that and making those improvements as needed and as we can afford it.”

With projects filed on Gifford’s desk, he is excited to get started.

“We have a great parks system already, but we can do more and different things,” he said. “I look forward to thinking about those. If you live in the city and work in town, everything is right at your fingertips. We have a big challenge with infrastructure and I think we are in a good position to meet that.

“People love Big Rapids,” Gifford said. “I think when all of us know a place really well we can sometimes take it for granted. I know from my time, I grew up here and moved away, then came back. It really gave me an appreciation of how great of a place Big Rapids is to live and work and raise a family in. I’m super excited. I encourage people to come in and say, ‘Hi.'”

After taking the position as city manager, Gifford said many familiar faces have stopped in to talk with him, as well as people he hasn’t met.

“Anytime people want to stop in, my door is always open,” he said.

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Posted by Meghan Gunther-Haas

Meghan is the education reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review. She can be reached at (231) 592-8382 or by email at mhaas@pioneergroup.com.

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