Builders Exchange, Chamber partner: Seek to boost area development

TRAVERSE CITY – The Builders Exchange of Northwest Michigan and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce have formed a partnership to promote commercial development within the city.

The Builders Exchange, a TC-based nonprofit organization for local commercial contractors, was contacted by the Chamber in February in the wake of controversy over the Federated Properties parking deck proposal. However, both groups say that the issues extend beyond the West Front Street property.

"When projects are brought to the table that have been through the appropriate planning and permitting and get to a point where they don't happen, it has impact all the way from engineering to the sub-contractors," says Builders Exchange Executive Director Ruth Shane. "We want to give voice to the reasons development is important. To come to the table and participate in commission meetings instead of being a silent voice."

The alliance is part of a broad effort on the Chamber's part to support development.

"At this point we're meeting, gathering information and promoting feedback with the city commissioners and staff, neighborhood associations, builders, retail groups, all kinds of businesses, land owners and home owners," says Chamber president Doug Luciani.

The Chamber has already met with individual city council members and is looking at a four- to eight-week timeframe for meeting with other key stakeholders in government and the business community.

Luciani said the Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI) is also partnering with the Chamber in the effort. MLUI Executive Director Hans Voss describes it as a partnership of advocacy and education and says that they support the efforts of the Chamber.

"Smart growth starts with redeveloping core cities," says Voss. "You can't have density without parking decks and you can't have walkability without density. Our primary focus is making the case using education and communication."

According to Luciani, areas that are targeted for re-development of obsolete space, infilling empty space and increasing density on selected properties, include:

– West Front Street from Union to Division

– Olde Towne

– Garfield from Front Street to South Airport Road

– East Eighth Street from Boardman Avenue to Garfield

– Munson Medical Center campus from Cedar Run and Front to Copper Ridge on Silver Lake Road

Specific plans to promote commercial development include expediting the permitting and approval process and working with builders to identify possible issues before their proposals get to the city commission, Luciani says.

"We have to develop a sense of urgency," he said. "As a community we should encourage development. Nothing is in the pipeline for these builders. Normally at this time of year they're making bids. There's a very, very slow trickle right now. There's the appearance, at least, that commercial development in Traverse City is stalled."

However, according to the Grand Traverse County Construction Code Office, there were 18 new commercial projects in the city last year, compared to 11 in 2005. Alterations to commercial sites numbered 103 in 2006 compared to 86 in 2005.

In January and February there were 15 permits issued for commercial re-modeling projects in Traverse City compared with eight for the same period last year and 12 for 2005. While there were two permits issued for new commercial construction in the city in the first two months of 2006 and five in 2005, none were issued in January and February of this year.

The Chamber's 2007 Economic Forecast, which came out last November, predicts a 6.6 percent increase in construction jobs for Grand Traverse County between 2006 and 2010. There is no breakdown for the city. This figure includes both commercial and residential construction.

"We want responsible growth," says Rick Smith, president of the Builders Exchange. "We live here and want it done according to ordinances. We're at the point you're not going to stop growth, so let's get our share of it and let's not spook these developers into thinking it's so hard to do business up here that they go somewhere else." BN