ALMA — The strategic plan for action to lead the city of Alma, known as “Alma Aspires: People, Place, Prosperity” was delayed, just as it began to gain momentum, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But on Monday, May 1, it became apparent there remains a drive to make Alma a premier location to live, visit, and start or grow a business.

Nearly 100 community leaders gathered in the Wright-Leppien Opera House in downtown Alma to celebrate their shared successes as a community, relaunch the “Alma Aspires” initiative and work together on the next phase of the shared vision.

“What a pleasure it was to be with the Alma Aspires group for the first time in three years, where you could feel the enthusiasm and the excitement from those who wish to improve our local community,” said Alma College President Jeff Abernathy. “I believe the commitment to continue the good work that has been happening in our area, in spite of the pandemic, is unique for our post-pandemic world. I’m pleased to be a part of it.”

“Alma Aspires” was launched in 2019 in order to bring civic leadership together to develop and execute a visionary strategy to position Alma for renewed success. It attracted a range of community stakeholders; including leaders at Alma College, City of Alma, MyMichigan Medical Center-Alma, Masonic Pathways, Greater Gratiot Development, Inc. and Alma Public Schools, along with a volunteer group of more than 60 individuals.

Collectively, the group focused on improving the “People, Place and Prosperity” of the city of Alma and greater Gratiot County area and successfully published a strategic plan. However, Abernathy said, the pandemic halted those efforts.

Despite the pandemic, community leaders say, there has been plenty to celebrate in Alma over the past three years. Alma College recently opened the Greg Hatcher Learning Commons, a $14-million renovation of its former college library. Point Broadband recently outfitted every home in Alma with the capability for fiberoptic internet service. Ballyhoo Books and Brew, a popular bookstore and coffee shop, recently opened in downtown Alma.

There are still reasons for optimism yet to come. MyMichigan Medical Center recently embarked upon the $34.5-million construction of an advanced surgical services center. The Gratiot Young Professionals Network is growing in numbers by the day. There are plans in place to improve recreational offerings in the county, such as the establishment of pocket parks.

“In spite of the pandemic, we saw significant growth and vitality in our community over these past few years. To me, that can be attributed to the people themselves who were part of the original gathering, who are committed to driving the community to success,” said Jim Wheeler, president of Greater Gratiot Development, Inc. “However, our work is not done. In particular, we are focused on making sure everyone in our community has an opportunity to take part in these discussions. I look forward to continuing that work in the weeks and months yet to come.”

Incorporated as a village in 1872 and a city in 1905, Alma is now the largest community in Gratiot County with just under 9,000 residents, according to the 2020 census. The Alma Downtown Historic District, featuring 72 mostly brick commercial structures spread out over 11 city blocks, is recognized by both the Michigan and National Historic Registers.