Bridges, Parking and TC’s Character: Extending TIF 97 is the right thing to do

In 1997 the Traverse City Commission took an important step in the development of downtown Traverse City by approving the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) 97 plan. This plan was well designed and has proven a huge success not only for downtown Traverse City, but for the Grand Traverse region as a whole. The important improvements that were made possible by the TIF 97 plan include the Hardy parking garage, two pedestrian bridges across the Boardman River, new public restrooms, the bayfront redevelopment and Clinch Park tunnel, replacing the roof on the City Opera House, a public Wi-Fi system, the Uptown Riverwalk and various bridge repairs.

The economic and community development value of the TIF 97 plan is clear and unquestioned. The public infrastructure improvements have driven robust private investment and provided for historic preservation of our city’s character. Downtown Traverse City has become one of the premier destinations and economic growth success stories in the state of Michigan. The tax base of the TIF 97 district has increased from less than $33 million in 1997 to over $80 million today.

The important work of TIF 97 continues. Key projects outlined in the original plan are yet to be completed. These additional projects – promised in the TIF 97 plan – will have a direct positive impact on our economic growth, the preservation of our historic downtown and our regional quality of life. It is vitally important for the entire Grand Traverse region that the Downtown Development Authority and the Traverse City Commission approve the extension of the TIF 97 agreement.

TIF allows for the funding of major and minor city infrastructure projects for the benefit of residents, visitors, employees and employers. Only property owners within the designated TIF 97 district are subject to the tax capture; others are unaffected. Neighborhood residents will not see a tax increase when the TIF 97 extension is approved.

TIF 97 extension supports critical public infrastructure in the downtown district, including bridge repairs and replacements, street and sidewalk improvements, stormwater management, a new civic square and a new West Front Street parking garage. The parking garage addresses a key need: where to park thousands of cars that come into the city each day. The garage will help to relieve parking issues downtown and will help to preserve the character of Central Neighborhood by limiting overflow parking on residential streets.

Traverse Connect is an ardent supporter for the use of TIF because TIF designations are one of the few tools available to rural communities to assist in building out the infrastructure necessary for robust economic development and historic preservation. At its core, TIF financing is a cost-sharing mechanism. On average, 50,000 people per day come into Traverse City, which takes a toll on downtown infrastructure. This infrastructure is used by all residents and visitors in the region, not just city residents. It is important that the cost of maintaining this infrastructure is shared across the region.

Without TIF financing, the city’s general fund would be unable to support the needed level of infrastructure investment, the quality and attractiveness of our downtown would suffer, infrastructure improvements would be cancelled or delayed. City residents would be on their own to address the gaps, in the form of fewer services, higher taxes or a combination of the two. Quality of life would be diminished for city residents, regional residents and visitors alike.

While the mechanics of TIF districts are somewhat complex, the benefits are clearly visible and overwhelmingly positive. Investing in downtown improves the quality of our community, preserves our historic downtown and neighborhoods and increases property values and the tax base not just for the DDA district or the city, but for the entire region.

Warren Call is the president/CEO of Traverse Connect, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact him at