Beyond the Beach: Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet counties report new development and expansions

From Elk Rapids to Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, the business climate looks pretty rosy up north. The anticipation of a busy summer – potentially the busiest ever, according to some – along with a strong economy bodes well for private and nonprofit businesses.

For starters, the area is home to two businesses named to the 50 Companies to Watch by Michigan Celebrates Small Business: Beards Brewery of Petoskey and Industrial Magnetics, Inc. of Boyne City. Ben Slocum, co-owner and co-founder of Beards, said the brewery isn’t resting on its laurels, gearing up for summer with a couple new beers, including Copper Star Galactica, a fruity brew with copper hops from MI Local Hops in Williamsburg.

Slocum has been tracking numbers and talking with other business people in the area. “We think this is going to be our busiest summer to date,” he said.

The Petoskey Pit 

Part of Berg’s proposed development is the 123-room Petoskey Grand Hotel.

According to Petoskey Area Chamber of Commerce President Carlin Smith, the biggest game-changer would be the realization of a new proposal for the property at 200 E. Lake Street. The empty block, known as the Petoskey Hole or the Petoskey Pit, has been a source of hand-wringing and embarrassment for more than a decade, with proposals coming and going. Now, new owner Robert Berg, owner of Howard Property Partners, has proposed a massive development called Petoskey Grand which will include:

  • 123 hotel rooms/suites
  • 8,000 sq. feet of conference/event center
  • A pharmacy
  • Pool/spa/fitness center
  • Lobby and rooftop lounges and restaurants
  • Two to three small theaters of 50-200 seats
  • 30 apartment units
  • 11 brownstone residences with rooftop decks
  • Two levels of underground parking

While larger and taller than anything else in the downtown area, the project is less dense than previous proposals. It would require zoning changes, and there is no timeline yet on actual work, should it be approved.

Victories Square

A 22-acre project already in development is Victories Square on U.S. 131 in Petoskey, owned by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. It represents an eight-year effort by the Little Traverse Bay Band and Odawa Economic Development Management Inc. to redevelop the former Victories Casino property. Currently Starbucks and Great Clips are open. T-Mobile, Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bar and the 139-room Courtyard by Marriott are under construction and expected to open within the next few months. Phase II is still in the early stages of planning, but is anticipated to incorporate multi-family housing along with additional retail and/or restaurants.

Bay Harbor

On the south end of Petoskey, Bay Harbor has a couple new arrivals. New CEO Mike Gerard is a 30-year industry veteran of business and commercial real estate, with a focus on managing brokerage profitability, growth and development. He and his family are relocating from Birmingham to their home on Walloon Lake.

Also new to the Bay Harbor scene, though not the area, is Red Sky Stage. The performance venue was formerly located in downtown Petoskey, but due to a dispute with its landlord has moved to 801 Front Street, suites C and D at the south end of the business district of stores and restaurants. Owner Marty Scott plans to restart its schedule of music by local and traveling artists, from Americana to hip hop to swing, as well as community meetings and music lessons.

Charlevoix County

Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce President Sarah Hagen affirms the glowing assessment of this summer, and said she sees positive signs long-term as well. One of those was the interest in Manufacturing Day, where several facilities opened their doors for students from across the area.

“High school students toured factories, seeing the lines, accounting, human resources,” she said.

Among the companies on the rise is the aforementioned Industrial Magnetics of Boyne City. One of 50 Michigan Companies to Watch, it designs, engineers and manufactures permanent and electro-magnetic assemblies for holding, lifting, fixturing, conveying, and magnetic separation applications in a number of industries, including metalworking and fabrication, automotive, food processing, pharmaceutical and mining. Earlier this year it acquired Clamp Manufacturing Co. of South El Monte, Calif. Dennis O’Leary, Industrial Magnetics’ chief business development officer, said Clamp Manufacturing products and relationships offered an opportunity to build the combined companies’ businesses.

In Charlevoix proper, a new version of an old favorite is scheduled to open later this summer. Originally known as Earl Young’s Weathervane Lodge and then simply The Lodge, Hotel Earl at 120 Michigan Avenue is being refurbished and expanded.

The renovation includes the addition of a third story and 17 guest rooms, for a total of 56 guest rooms and suites. It will include a new swimming pool, a high-tech 12-seat boardroom, and a 1,500 square-foot presidential/bridal suite, along with restored balconies, new ADA-compliant stairways and state-of-the-art luxury accommodations. It has been renamed for its original builder, Earl Young, famed for building Charlevoix’s mushroom houses. Hagen said the facility is looking at an August opening.

Craft Beverages

Lake Charlevoix Brewing Co. in downtown Charlevoix.

The craft beverage scene continues to be an economic player across the region. Breweries such as Beards, Short’s in Bellaire and Lake Charlevoix Brewing Company, distilleries like Ethanology in Elk Rapids and Mammoth Distilling in Central Lake, and wineries like Royal Farms in Ellsworth and Crooked Wine and Vine in Alanson attract more enthusiasts each year. They are being joined by newer establishments such as Vista Ridge Vineyards in Alden and Cellar 1914 in Central Lake.

The new Petoskey Wine Region includes a dozen wineries, while Torch Lake Tours features 11 different establishments, stretching from Williamsburg (Townline Ciderworks) to just south of Charlevoix (Bier’s Inwood Brewery).

Tom Kern, executive director of the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the craft beverage scene is helping keep the economy strong, while other sectors continue to grow. “Craft beer, cider – it has exploded. Altonen Orchard Cider, Cellar 152, the Town Club is being totally redone,” he said.

Antrim County

Rachel Krino of the Bellaire Chamber of Commerce said the continued strength of the food and beverage scene is a plus for Bellaire and the rest of the region.

“We’re becoming a food town,” she said, noting many establishments are featuring foods and ingredients from nearby farms.

The farms themselves are jumping into the game, she said. “[They] are diversifying and finding value-added [products and services], such as agri-tourism, Airbnb and glamping,” she said.

The downtown is also strong economically. Krino said the last vacant storefront in Bellaire has been rented.

Bayfront Beach and Bike in Elk Rapids.

Tom Kern in Elk Rapids said both retail and manufacturing are growing. “We have quite a lot of new retail,” he said, pointing to Bayfront Beach and Bike as an example.

Other businesses he cited as continuing to grow include Burnette Foods, Starcutter Company (Elk Rapids Engineering) and Saint-Gobain.

Growth and Its Hazards

While signs are positive, there are some caveats. For one thing, if you’re looking to go further north than Petoskey, you’ll have to deal with one of the vagaries of Michigan summers: road construction. The loop of U.S. 31 that skirts Petoskey is undergoing reconstruction. That means detouring through downtown and/or delays as the roadway is being rebuilt. The city is partnering with MDOT on the project, which includes moving the highway inland away from the bluff and re-configuring the Lewis Street intersection so that it is more of a “T” instead of a merge.

Traffic delays are not the only challenges facing the area. Like most of northern Michigan and much of the state, finding workers continues to be a dilemma. Kern said the size of the city doesn’t matter.

“We’re facing the same challenges: a lack of labor and shortage of workforce housing,” he said. “It’s no different from Traverse City, it’s just that the magnitude of the problem is smaller.”

The region also continues to wrestle with establishing a year-round economy, but the traditional summer spike is elongating, Hagen said. “We’re starting to get some shoulder season traffic,” she said.

Kelley Atkins, director of the Pellston Regional Airport, said he always sees more traffic in the sky come summer. “Like all businesses, we’re reliant on summer traffic, tourism and resorters,” he said.

The airport is looking at a slightly expanded flight schedule for the summer, as well as anticipating the removal of some trees on the perimeter; it has instituted a surcharge of $4.50 per passenger to help fund airport improvements.

Hospital, College Expand in Petoskey 

Two nonprofits are also enlarging their presence in Petoskey: McLaren Northern Michigan is undergoing a nearly $158 million expansion and North Central Michigan College is upgrading as well.

The 180,000 square-foot hospital addition will provide 92 new private beds: 24 for ICU and the remainder split between cardiovascular and orthopedic, with another 12 observation rooms. The building will also include a new operating room platform and 10 new operating rooms (one with advanced technology) and a new main entrance.

Design work began in 2015 before the nearly two-year process of moving utilities and parking began in 2016. Currently foundation work is taking place for the new six-story building, of which only three stories will be above grade with views of Little Traverse Bay.

“Overall it’s lower than the tallest building already on campus. That was pretty important,” said Greg Potter, facilities director for McLaren Northern Michigan.

The plan is to begin utilizing the new addition by early summer of 2021, with completion of the project (including renovation of some other parts of the facility) taking another 18-20 months.

“We want to maintain our award-winning care and the building will enhance that,” said Shari Schult, MSN, RN and vice president, operations.

Overseeing the project will be new CEO Todd Burch. He described himself as an “advocate” for the organization. “I want to help it to grow,” he said.

He noted that growth has been a focus of his, with previous organizations he headed growing by a third to half during his tenure.

Of particular interest to him is the increasing pace of technological change, from medical procedures to record-keeping to the way medical care is delivered. He said the use of telemedicine is potentially a game-changer, especially for those in rural communities.

“People can get urgent care through their phone,” Burch said. “Healthcare has been slow to adapt to technology. The entire world is more consumer-driven.”

North Central Michigan College is upgrading as well. Dr. David Roland Finley has finished his first year at the college and is bullish on its future. A $7.4 million project will see work on the administration and classroom buildings, including new technology, new and updated classrooms, and a new entrance.

He said the college is looking to expand its offerings in nursing and allied health, as well as building trades. “We look to make a push in the trades,” he said. “We have to do all we can to help fill this need.”