Merchants weigh in on bayfront planning

TRAVERSE CITY – What to do with approximately 13,000 linear feet of shoreline along West Grand Traverse Bay has been the topic of discussion ever since the Power Plant was removed and City Commissioners decided to close the zoo.

With the November hiring of consultant JJR, a landscape architect/planning firm, the city hopes to move one step closer to firming up ideas for the bayfront. Community input is expected at the next planning meeting in mid-January.

JJR's Pat Doher said the January meeting will focus on incorporating two things into a master plan: "what we've learned" and "what we can provide." In the short-term, for the former zoo.

"We're starting to focus on the zoo area," Doher said. "The community deserves the opportunity to use that area sooner."

Bayfront Planning Committee chair Cecil McNally said that JJR's experience with other waterfront projects, the quality of its presentation, and the firm's ability to find funding were all important factors in its selection.

"Help finding funding sources was one of the things we were really concerned with, because I think everyone wants to see us develop a plan and start implementing it, that it not get put on a shelf someplace," McNally said.

With funding from local, state and federal sources, Doher's firm will use the data, studies and analysis done by MSU and U of M landscape architecture students and MSU's Small Town Design and Initiative (STDI) program as a base for its efforts.

The STDI program is under the direction of Warren Rauhe, an MSU landscape architect professor. His goal is to transform community comments and ideas into realistic images that lead to a more focused community vision. Rauhe said the most challenging comment he hears at meetings is, "We like it just the way it is."

"Our challenge is to ask communities to define what they mean by 'leave it alone,'" Rauhe said. "In Traverse City I heard, 'Don't turn it into East Bay. Don't block vistas; work with those views.' There is so much opportunity there, it is incredible."

Most people who've attended planning meetings throughout the year want to see a bayfront that's active and used, without large buildings, McNally said. They want restrooms, places to change clothes and a place to grab something to eat. The challenge, he said, is to keep the space public and give people what they want without crossing into private development. If Con Foster Museum were saved, as some discussion has proposed, a restaurant could be part of that piece. Other proposals have included a children's museum or aquatic exhibits.

"If the zoo is a financial burden, how does the city subsidize the new plan?" he asked.

Across Grandview Parkway, south of the old TC Light and Power plant site, is the warehouse district at Garland and Hall Street. Jim Valesano, manager of the Lighting Center, would like to see downtown and the warehouse district develop some connections to the bay, both for the sake of safety and commerce.

"We need a walkway from downtown toward the bay, but cars on the parkway are going by at 35, sometimes 40, miles per hour. We need a calming down of traffic," he said.

Bicyclists using the TART trail are also "zooming past" and he would like a place for trail users to sit down, lock their bikes, and walk from the old zoo across the parkway to the warehouse district, and from there to downtown and Old Town.

"It's the connecting of the dots," he said. "You have your two points and whatever those points are, it's also what's in-between. It doesn't seem like a two-block or three-block walk when you have things to look at, points of interest. We need places like the Jay Smith Walkway (between Kilwin's and Pangeas). They did an excellent job with that. It's a hidden jewel."

Valesano said the two-mile stretch along the water could use more stopping points, like the plaques and markers near the old Light and Power site and "little islands" where people could sit on benches and watch the water. He'd like to see the zoo area left open, with downtown restaurants providing vendor carts for ice cream or food during spring and summer. During the winter, he'd like to see an ice skating rink.

Eric Vert, general manager of the Holiday Inn, located on the east end of the bayfront planning area, believes a concession area would bring in some revenues, but could detract from the attractiveness of the area.

"The business we do here includes outside food and beverage sales, but we take great pains to keep garbage off our grounds and property," Vert said. "I'm on the fence."

He feels an amphitheater, which has been proposed by some, would draw people at the expense of the natural landscape.

Ken Burritt of Burritt's Fresh Markets would like to see some family-oriented activities, such as an amphitheater, that would keep the bay open but also offer music for families to enjoy. In addition to the volleyball area, he proposes a basketball area and small park. Still, he would like the bayfront to be at least 75 percent green and sand.

For Marylou Zaloudek, owner of Americana Collection on East Front St., "visual trumps functional." She and her husband, John, would like to see plenty of open space offering maximum views from the downtown area with tasteful landscaping.

Public restrooms, raised observation decks with coin-operated binoculars, a small covered band pavilion with open-air benches, and an ice skating rink in the winter are uses the Zaloudeks support. John Zaloudek said they would prefer tunnels to bridges to connect the bay to downtown.

The Boardman River has been part of the bayfront planning discussions, as well.

JJR's Doher said the river is an important part of the waterfront project, both for its uses and its environmental impact on the system.

"So, we're looking at a few more public amenities and looking at parking-if having parking along the river is the best use," he said. "We want to create an image more in line with Traverse City."

Ellen Fivenson, owner of the Garland warehouse building that houses the Insideout Gallery, wants to see more emphasis placed on "reinventing" the river area. She suggests creating picnic areas with benches, removing surface parking areas at the Farmers' Market, behind Fifth Third Bank, and to the south of the warehouse buildings on Garland, and replacing parking spaces with a three- or four-story parking garage for Fifth Third employees, market shoppers, Opera House patrons and others.

She said she'd love to see the Farmers' Market expand, become a destination with an extended season, with a "light and airy" building. South of the warehouse buildings, next to the fish weir, she imagines a town square with heated pavers and a place for the annual Christmas tree and, perhaps, a "funky" building or two.

The Boardman River is always on Dave Leonhard's mind. As Owner of Orvis Streamside, 223 E. Front St., he is concerned about "widespread development" of the waterfront that doesn't include a plan for "total cleanup of the Boardman, from 8th Street to the mouth." He'd like that plan to include less seawall and concrete, and more angling access, preferably for waders.

City Planner Russ Soyring said the city's goal is to design something that's very sustainable, that won't destroy the waterfront and the area's "economic engine."

He says the board of directors of American Rivers, which usually meets in such places as the Snake River, recently held its meeting in Traverse City because it had heard about the city's water quality efforts.

"That draws a different clientele to our community than if we weren't doing it," he said. BN