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Current Issue
January 2011 • Vol. 17 • Number 6


Current Issue
Current Issue
January 2011 • Vol. 17 • Number 6

Below and in the box on the left side of this page are some of the stories you'll find in the most current issue.

Hot List: 2011


By Staff

TCAPS

New TCAPS superintendent Steve Cousins’ main focus in 2011: Preparing area students for a future filled with global connections and the increased use of technology.

Now entering his first full year on the job, Cousins will oversee TCAPS Tomorrow, an ambitious plan he says will give students 21st century survival skills for a global economy.

“We want students to have a meaningful life once they leave our high schools,” says Cousins. “Technology can help students go beyond the textbook and the four walls of a classroom.”

Cousins says the hope is to engage the modern student in 2011 by using certain aspects from gaming, virtual classrooms and online content. Cousins also hopes to get a laptop into the hands of every student from 7th to 12th grade this year, an objective of the One to World program.

Other 2011 plans: developing an international language-immersion program for pre-school to 5th grade students; partnering with a new charter school that mixes environmental science and entrepreneur lessons; and starting a pilot program to bring 20 to 30 Chinese students to spend their senior years at TC high schools. – Bob Lovik



City of Traverse City

Police and pension will be top on city leaders’ minds in the coming months as they look to run Traverse City more like a business – an efficient and successful business. As Mayor Chris Bzdok describes it: some people focus on cost, some on the level of service, but the goal is to look at the intersection of the two and deliver value.

First up: the local police force. The city is looking at ways to cut police expenses while maintaining public safety. City commissioner Mary Ann Moore is chair of the group investigating how the department might run more cost-effectively. In early November the city approved a $25,000 contract with Alexander Weiss Consulting of Illinois to perform a “workload analysis” of the city’s police force.

Moore says the consultant is looking at “right sizing” the police staff – and at ways to streamline the police structure. She is quick to add that Police Chief Michael Warren is in total agreement with the analysis.

Next: the pension issue – involving city police, fire personnel and other bargaining units. The pensions are underfunded by $38 million dollars. To understand the issues and options moving forward, check out the November archives on the mayor’s website, planfortc.com. – Lynn Geiger



Brown Bridge Dam

Deconstruction of the Brown Bridge Dam on the Boardman River will begin in 2011 as part of what is being called one of the most significant environmental projects ever undertaken in the state of Michigan.

Taking down the dam is the first step in a project that aims to restore 253 acres of wetlands and reconnect 160 miles of river to Lake Michigan. The City of Traverse City recently received $1 million from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust to carry out the plan that will eventually remove three dams from the Boardman River.

Todd Kalish, chairman of the city-appointed project implementation team, says that once the project receives the appropriate permits from local, state and federal levels, the drawdown of the Brown Bridge dam will be begin this summer.

“This is the most comprehensive dam removal project in the country right now and the biggest in the history of Michigan,” says Kalish. “Our main focus is ensuring a safe drawdown, and the last thing we want is a rush of water downstream.”

To do this, Kalish says that a temporary dam will be constructed upstream this summer to relieve pressure on the Brown Bridge Dam while it is being torn down. – Bob Lovik



Brown Bridge Dam

Deconstruction of the Brown Bridge Dam on the Boardman River will begin in 2011 as part of what is being called one of the most significant environmental projects ever undertaken in the state of Michigan.

Taking down the dam is the first step in a project that aims to restore 253 acres of wetlands and reconnect 160 miles of river to Lake Michigan. The City of Traverse City recently received $1 million from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust to carry out the plan that will eventually remove three dams from the Boardman River.

Todd Kalish, chairman of the city-appointed project implementation team, says that once the project receives the appropriate permits from local, state and federal levels, the drawdown of the Brown Bridge dam will be begin this summer.

“This is the most comprehensive dam removal project in the country right now and the biggest in the history of Michigan,” says Kalish. “Our main focus is ensuring a safe drawdown, and the last thing we want is a rush of water downstream.”

To do this, Kalish says that a temporary dam will be constructed upstream this summer to relieve pressure on the Brown Bridge Dam while it is being torn down. – Bob Lovik



Acme Township

Acme Township leaders will continue their ambitious plans in 2011 with the ongoing development of a waterfront park, farmland preservation and a project that may bring a Meijer superstore to the area.

As part of a plan to develop a bayside park, Acme Township will add 3.75 acres and 540 feet of beachfront access in 2011, thanks to the purchase of three properties that are currently home to empty buildings. The plan includes a public beach for swimming and preservation of native shoreline.

Acme will also continue its preservation program to ensure that family-owned farms remain a part of the landscape. Sharon Vreeland, Acme Township manager, says, “In 2010, we were able to fund preservation on three family farms with federal grants, which means people will be able to keep spending on delicious local food we are all getting hooked on.”

Also on the table? A 213,000-square foot Meijer store at the Village at Grand Traverse on M-72 and Lautner Road. Says Vreeland: “The application process is going to take a few months. We’re hoping there will be a public hearing in March or April, but we’re not sure yet.” – Bob Lovik





Stephen Karas

The outlook is good for the 2011 northwest Michigan real estate markets, says new president of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors (TAAR), Stephen Karas.

Karas took over as president of TAAR on January 1st and says that the region has a lot to be thankful for heading into 2011. “The one good thing about northwest Michigan is that we are somewhat insulated. We have a very desirable location, and a lot of people are seeking to buy here.”

Among those doing the most buying: people looking for recreational properties, younger professionals returning to the region, and out-of-state buyers drawn to the area’s natural beauty.

Under his leadership, Karas says he wants TAAR to function as more of a community watchdog than a trade organization. He says TAAR will work to keep the long term in mind.

“We want to focus on things we think will help the region in the future. This includes bringing broadband to rural areas, an affordable housing/ Habitat for Humanity project, and being as energy efficient as possible.”

Karas says that TAAR is also involved in developing a light rail system that – eventually – would connect Traverse City to Chicago. – Bob Lovik



Traverse City’s Bayfront

The public space improvement project got a financial shot in the arm in early December when it leveraged a $450,000 commitment from the TC Downtown Development Authority (TIF 97 funds) to receive a matching grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Armed with $900,000, the Parks and Recreation Commission is now conducting a “capital campaign” of sorts as it seeks gifts from local funders and foundations to the tune of another $450,000, according to commission chair Nate Elkins. The commission hopes to bring the total purse for the first phase of the project into the $1 - $1.5 million range, Elkins says.

This initial phase focuses on revitalization of the Clinch Park area, primarily the east end of the former zoo. It involves demolition of the old concessions building and former turtle house, a re-do of the tunnel entrance, construction of a children’s natural play area, splash pad, a kayak and canoe launch, restroom/changing area, and universal access to the boat ramp and beach.

So what can you expect to see happening down there in the next six to nine months? There won’t be much to “see,” explains Elkins. When the state appropriations come through by late winter, officials can then go ahead with final project engineering so the project can be put out for bid. Elkins says a very optimistic timeline is a bid award by late summer and some possible demolition before the snow flies.

The bayfront revitalization project will continue to push ahead this month, however, as the commission holds study sessions for subsequent phases of the improvement plan.

“We’re doing this to create waterfront recreational opportunities and also to create a strong platform for future economic growth,” says Elkins. “We’re hoping it spurs more development … like 101 N. Park or on the west end of downtown.” Ci.traverse-city.mi.us. – Lynn Geiger



Selestial Soap

The popularity of its all-natural, suds-less, phosphate-less laundry soaps means expanded distribution and product lines for Traverse City-based Selestial Soap in 2011. Its Outdoor Extreme Laundry Soap will be distributed through Jay’s Sporting Goods, one of the largest sporting goods stores in the Midwest, starting this month. The super-concentrated formula is designed for super dirty stuff – i.e. sports, military and hunting gear – but it also comes in a 2 oz. bottle that is right-sized for business travelers and gentle enough for washing things out in the bathroom sink.

Two new products are also hitting the market: Selestial Sun, a color-safe bleach alternative, will enter its distribution phase soon, and Selestial Soft Bottoms Baby Soap is being marketed to area children’s retailers.

Owner Ruth Smith says the company is really concentrating on growing its commercial division this year and is working to get its products into area motels and hotels. Residential customers can find the laundry soaps locally at Oryana, Oleson’s and numerous other stores around the region. Selestialsoap.com. – Lynn Geiger



Munson Healthcare

Top priorities for Munson Healthcare in 2011? Much like 2010: Improving patient care and expanding services.

In 2011 those expansions and improvements should take the shape of added beds and more private rooms in one of Munson Medical Center’s patient towers. Improving neonatal care at the center is also on the list of improvements, as well as a cardiac diagnostic suite in 2011 that will complete the Heart Center.

Munson execs are also hoping to see some progress made on the long-awaited cancer center.

Ed Ness, Munson Healthcare president and CEO, says the cancer center would bring new technology to the region and “upgrade the coordination of care throughout the cancer continuum.”

Expansion plans, however, will depend on the center getting a helping hand.

Says Ness: “We have historically benefited from generous community support and will increasingly need that support to bring these plans to reality.” – Bob Lovik



Traverse City State Bank

In 2008, TCSB finished with a loss of $3.3 million. In 2009, that loss was cut in half to $1.8. How did 2010 end up? Comfortable in the black, posting a profit of $200,000.

“We’ve gone from triage to strategic planning,” says CEO and president Connie Deneweth.

A common stock offering last year raised $4.5 million in capital and brought the bank 30 new shareholders, bringing the total number to 330. “That allowed us to charge off some loans and increased our stability,” Deneweth says. The bank is well-capitalized, according to the FDIC, she adds. “The FDIC is looking at us as the ‘poster child’ of troubled banks.”

TCSB also reduced its cost of funds (what it costs the bank to buy money that it lends out) by more than $1 million, and got rid of many problematic loans (Deneweth says a few remain on the books) and riskier investments (such as a $1 million Lehman Brothers bond).

“The national markets had our local bank,” says Deneweth.

On the sales side, the bank processed $158 million in local residential mortgages in the last 18 months. With an average amount of $160,000, that translates to nearly 1,000 households that refinanced, purchased or built through TCSB funding. It also adopted a more conservative underwriting approach on the commercial loan side in addition to being approved as a Small Business Administration lender.

“We’re assisting our customers with their business strategy, to be stronger and leaner,” says Deneweth. “We’re sharing what we learned.”

Between Sept. 30, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2010, deposit growth in Michigan was a negative 1.5 percent; for TCSB during that same time period it was a positive 3 percent.

More positives appear to be lined up for the bank in the coming year. Deneweth says its strategy is continued focus on community involvement, helping customers make good loan decisions and growing its residential market portfolio. – Lynn Geiger



Hagerty’s Historical Vehicle Association

Hagerty Insurance, the largest provider of collector car insurance in the world, is launching a group that could potentially save generations of automobiles.

The Historic Vehicle Association (HVA), which the TC company will officially launch in 2011, the first single unifying group in North America representing all historic vehicle owners and enthusiasts – across all make, model, year and class boundaries. It has been ratified as the U.S. and Canadian National Authority by the international body Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA).

The HVA’s goal? To help protect owners from social, environmental, technological and regulatory pressure that indirectly affect historic vehicles. While these vehicles account for less than 1 percent of the registered passenger vehicles, and drive less than .05 percent of the total miles driven, Hagerty reps say the vehicles are being negatively affected by broad, sweeping reform aimed at the entire transportation sector. If left unchecked, the HVA posits, antique automobiles, trucks and motorcycles could go the way of the horse – to be seen only in parades and at special events.

While a spokesperson for Hagerty admits the arguments are hard to dispute – cleaner, safer vehicles; less pollution and congestion; reduced petroleum dependence – each of these initiatives, if advanced in the narrow view, could restrict or eliminate the rights of historic vehicle owners. Learn more: historicvehicle.org. – Karen Johnson



AristotleAir

Fresh, warm and clean air. What more could a kid in a classroom want?

Invented by Jerry Sheren of Sheren Heating and Plumbing in Traverse City and Terry Berden of Great Lakes Stainless, this new classroom heater/ventilator/purifier is one smart machine. Beta testing of the units was performed at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School in Traverse City with highly successful results. And, the company recently completed a total conversion – 10 units and a new boiler system – at TC’s Immaculate Conception Elementary.

“Early reports are encouraging,” says Fred Sorensen, a business development specialist for AristotleAir. “All energy expectations will be met, if not slightly better than planned.”

The product is manufactured under the new company Healthy Energy Resources and Great Lakes Stainless builds the steel housing for the units. Company representatives have been busy presenting the new heating unit to schools in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District as well as to school districts in southeast Michigan. If schools can squeeze a little bit more out of their already strained budgets – for a heating system that will pay for itself and then some in energy savings – expect these units to start popping up in classrooms all over. It’s hard to say “no” to savings of up to 40 percent on energy bills and healthier classrooms and kids, says Sorensen. Aristotle-air.com. – Lynn Geiger



Eighth Street

A study of the Eighth Street corridor between West Barlow and Union will take place this year with an eye to spurring investment and development.

The corridor study, planned to begin in March, will investigate ways to bring infrastructure improvements, streetscaping and economic development to the area, says City Commissioner Jody Bergman.

“The study will help complete the picture of what we would like to see that corridor become,” says Bergman. “We’ve heard from the public who has told us they want Eighth Street to look more like Old Town. It is a heavily traveled corridor that has the most potential of attracting developers.”

The study is made possible by a federal grant and will be a joint effort between Grand Traverse County and the City of Traverse City. Bergman, who will be serving on the corridor study committee, says that the results of the study might also apply to other parts of the city.

“We hope to come up with a model of core development that could be applied to East and West Front Street and Fourteenth Street to name a few. We hope to spur activity sooner rather than later.”

– Bob Lovik



The New Y

To say that the capital campaign for the new Grand Traverse Bay YMCA facility stalled out in 2009 is no exaggeration. But CEO Tom Van Deinse says things are picking up speed once again, with nearly $500,000 in donations in the door during the third quarter of 2010.

Van Deinse says a mid-campaign study was done the first of the year to assess the health of the campaign and the battered economy’s impact. It was determined that the campaign could be completed within the next 24 months, he says. So far, $6 million has been raised with $6 million left to go before construction of the essential (first) phase can begin.

So what will be built once the money is in? Top on the list is a learn-to-swim pool (a section dedicated to competition is also included), a fitness area, and a tennis facility. “Our most essential needs are now in the first phase of construction,” says Van Deinse.

“We’re feeling really good” about the campaign, he says, due in no small part to all the opportunities for matching grants available. That good feeling is further bolstered by construction costs that are not increasing. “We’d like to be able to take advantage of that and build for less than projected.” Gtbayymca.org. – Lynn Geiger



Fire Service

Traverse City is currently working with Acme, East Bay and Garfield townships on the feasibility of the Traverse City Fire Department joining the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department.

“If one was starting from scratch today, there is absolutely no way you would set it up as two departments,” says Bzdok. Just look at the map (above), he says.

Advantages? Cost savings, efficiencies and higher level of service, just to name a few.

“I support this and the three township supervisors are conceptually all in agreement,” says Bzdok. “Now it’s just a matter of if the details come together. There are a lot of reasons to explore it further.”

Metro is currently collecting data from the city with regard to services and protection levels. At least initially, a relationship between the two departments would likely be on a contract basis, and the city could possibly become a full-fledged member of Metro at a later date.

“We need to make sure it’s a good fit for both of us, “ says Wayne Kladder, Acme Township supervisor. “There are some cultural differences.”

“I think it would provide advantages for both organizations,” adds Garfield Township supervisor Chuck Korn. “It would bring higher service to the whole region and can save the city some serious capital.”

That withstanding, Korn says there are a number of people in the townships who don’t feel there’s any compatibility with the way the stations are run.

There promises to be much more talk on this issue. Stay tuned.



Boardman Lake Trail

Plans are in the works to bring Traverse City’s Boardman Lake Trail full circle sooner than originally thought.

TART Trails executive director Julie Clark says the trail group along with Grand Traverse County, Traverse City and Garfield Township are kicking off a trail design phase to close the loop around the west side of the lake. The hope is that trail construction would begin in 2012.

The first step, Clark says, is finalizing the trail alignment and securing a few remaining trail easements from private landowners. Next up is formulating a plan for how to pay for it. Clark says there are some local funds available through the county’s brownfield redevelopment plan. Current cost estimate for completing the remaining three miles of trail is $3.4 million.

Plans are also moving ahead for extending the trail to the south into the Boardman River valley. But first, trail users need to be able to get across South Airport Road. A feasibility study conducted by local engineering company Gosling Czubak has produced conceptual design options for an underpass. TART is planning public meetings about the proposed $1.6 million project this winter. – Lynn Geiger




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