People, Products & Properties to Watch in ’09

Last year at this time the world was a different place; most of us weren't nervously watching to see how badly the stocks fell that day, wondering if the Big Three would be bailed out or listening to report after report on foreclosures, bankruptcies, and bailouts.

So, in these unprecedented times, in this new economy, who will we turn to for direction and optimism? Which properties will spawn new growth and which products will give us reassurance in our local economy?

Following is a sampling of the who, what and where we'll be talking about – and why.

People

Ben Bifoss

In November, Traverse City got its second manager in 17 years when Richard Lewis left for a consulting gig in Georgia. Ben Bifoss' arrival in town wasn't exactly smooth, with some residents and at least one commissioner thinking the hiring process was rushed. The process was also compromised when fellow finalist Tom Menzel withdrew his application at the last minute.

Bifoss has a very full plate, as forward motion on some issues took a backburner while the commission sought the city's new manager. One of his first charges is leading the commission on a strategic planning initiative launched last month that will set the goals for the coming year.

The proposed contract for services at Cherry Capital Airport, the staffing level of the fire department and street improvements are among the issues Mayor Michael Estes has identified as priorities.

Year one of Bifoss' contract should be an interesting one.

Tino Breithaupt

With the future of Michigan's economy in flux, northern Michigan economic development leaders certainly have their plates full as they contemplate ways to bolster the regional business landscape. Tino Breithaupt, senior vice president of economic development at Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, is surely feeling the pressure.

It was three years ago when Breithaupt returned to his hometown to oversee the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corp. Since then, he's pushed for greater technology throughout the region, including bringing wireless to rural communities. While that's taken longer than he'd planned, Breithaupt remains confident of the eventual deployment of this technology throughout the five-county region. It could happen by working with rural government bodies, which might provide some funding through their revolving loan programs, or through the EDC's just-getting-off-the-ground regional development fund – a program that hopefully will have the momentum to not only boost current employers but help attract new companies to the area as well.

Bottom line: More than ever, the region will be looking to Breithaupt for results.

Michael Casuscelli

Michael Casuscelli joined the Record-Eagle as Publisher last September, replacing Ann Reed, who had resigned to the surprise of many in the community a few months prior. Formerly the publisher of The Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Ind., Casuscelli was said by a company executive to bring to the newspaper a solid track record of community service. Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. owns both the Record-Eagle and The Herald Bulletin.

Despite budget cuts and layoffs at the newspaper, he has a keen interest in continuing the Record-Eagle's commitment to community journalism, as well as serving the community in which he lives. Eyes are sure to be on his involvement in the area and the organizations and efforts he chooses to support.

Tim Hinkley

"I'm not going to do it by myself," said Tim Hinkley, the new executive director of the National Cherry Festival, of the effort to make the festival viable in 2009 and beyond. Hinkley said he's spending his early days concentrating on the organization's budget. Using this financial document is a great way to learn in-depth details about every aspect of the festival's operation.

"As I dig into it, one question leads to another and another. It's an opening to communicate with the staff in a very, very good way. Everyone's door is open – sometimes I just stand in my own doorway, ask a question, get an answer, then get back to work."

Hinkley said he's also thinking about what needs to be fresh for 2009, specifically, entertainment. He'll spend the next few weeks asking anyone with an opinion on the festival, "How can we make it better?" The new director's previous position was as President and Chief Operating Officer of Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc. where he was part of the team that grew the firm in six states, the Bahamas, and the United Kingdom. "Running a casino," he said, "is like a festival every day."

Angela Macke

If she's not out teaching people about the therapeutic benefits of drinking tea (which has helped heal her own autoimmune disease), Angela Macke, owner of By the Light of Day Teas and Tisanesm is pulling weeds on her 25-acre organic and biodynamic farm in southern Leelanau County. This year she built a new barn at her farm location at 3502 E. Traverse Highway (M-72) that, by next summer, will be the home base for the white tea, flowers, herbs and fruits she grows for her hand-blended, custom organic teas. She's committed to growing her teas and tisanes according to strict organic standards and purchasing the rest of her tea products according to TransFair guidelines. The property will be open for walking tours and eventually also house a commercial kitchen and greenhouse.

A pending deal with Whole Foods Market, the world's leader in natural and organic foods that begins this month, will only add more steam to Macke's budding business.

Tom Menzel

The National Cherry Festival looks to have a new administrative home inside the Con Foster Museum, thanks to the festival's exiting executive director, Tom Menzel. Menzel ended his three-year tenure on Dec. 15 by negotiating the festival's 2009 contract with both the Open Space and the Museum. During his work with the Festival he took the organization that was, "blue-lipped and barely breathing," according to one supporter, and "blew some life back into that baby." Under his leadership, the festival was profitable in 2008 for the first time in five years.

A finalist at one time for the city manager's post vacated by Richard Lewis, Menzel voluntarily withdrew his name from consideration following sniping by City Commissioner, Deni Scrudato. He is now a finalist for the Leelanau County administrator position. In the year ahead, Menzel says he'll be managing his 401k, rebuilding the Lional train set from his boyhood, and transitioning into volunteering in the community. Menzel did say that he has not ruled out political opportunities at the county or state level. "I like situations that are somewhat challenging, consider collaborative partnerships, and offer new and creative ways of establishing efficiencies," Menzel said. "Right now I'm looking for ways to leave a good footprint."

Daniel Skibbs

Despite a parallel league canceling its 2009 season pending an agreement with players, the TC Wolves, Traverse City's new semi-pro football team, is still scheduled to play its first game this summer. That means owner Dan Skibbs has a lot on his to-do list.

Over the next few months Skibbs will be searching for a head coach, getting players prepared for the season, promoting the February tryouts for both players and Lady Wolves, the team's cheerleading squad, finalizing field access with TCAPS, promoting advertising packages, and establishing season ticket prices. Oh, and he'll be quitting his day job. The TC Wolves will play five games in 2009 as part of the North American Football League's Midwest Division.

Skibbs said the TC Wolves could play a pre-season game as early as the first week of June. "I believe this is a football community. I've been up here for six years, coached for three of those, and there are incredible fans here. The Wolves will focus onto a more professional/college-level feel."

Skibbs said those fans will soon be able to purchase season tickets on the team's website, www.tcwolves.com, for $10 to $12 per ticket. "In 2009 we're looking to establish a great foundation and a following," said Skibbs. "We're hoping to move into Thirlby for our second year."

Bob Sutherland

Bob Sutherland hopes if he builds it, they will come – or better yet, stop leaving. Sutherland wants to help fight the trend of young people fleeing for cool, urban living experiences by bringing hip living quarters to Front Street in downtown Traverse City.

His planned redevelopment of the former Whiting Hotel into "walk to work" housing targets young people who want to both work and live downtown. His vision is for trendy living spaces at a reasonable rent and he plans to construct the 25 apartments using green building practices and materials. It's a project whose time has come. Stay tuned.

Shawn Walters

The winemaker at Forty-Five North is on a roll. He left Leelanau Cellars in 2007 to join Forty-Five North, owned by Indiana ophthalmologist and eye surgeon Steve Grossnickle. Though the winery hasn't yet opened its tasting room, visitors are flocking to taste Walters' work out of Forty-Five's production facility.

He raised eyebrows back in the spring when the first-year winery picked up multiple top awards at California's Pacific Rim International competition, featuring wines from North and South America, New Zealand and Australia, and at the Finger Lakes (N.Y.) International Wine competition.

Walters, 37, also lends his talents to other wineries. He is consulting winemaker for Longview Winery in Leelanau County and has made wines for Chateau Fontaine as well, helping both achieve best-in-class awards at the 2008 Michigan Wine and Spirits competition. He was sought out by California winemaker and Riesling specialist Scott Harvey to make a limited release Riesling for Harvey's Jana label. That wine also was a winner at the Michigan competition.

Quoted on the Leelanau Peninsula Vinters Association blog, Harvey says: "I'm proud to be associated with one of the new stars of American winemaking. In my opinion Shawn Walters is going to be the winemaker who will end up putting Michigan wines on the map!"

Properties

Old Town parking deck

Last year we wondered if 2008 would be the year Old Town got its parking deck. While it didn't happen, it's definitely getting there.

We predict this year the project will make serious headway, following most recent developments which include the city's agreement to apply for a $1 million Community Development Block Grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. This will allow the property to be purchased for construction of the three-story, 410-space parking structure. In addition, the City Commission approved the appointments of a financial advisor and bond counsel for the deck's development.

Most significant was the commitment made to the project by Hagerty Insurance, which needs the parking deck for its growing workforce parking needs. A development deal with Hagerty requires the company to construct an additional building in its River's Edge complex, keep the business downtown through 2016 and create at least 100 new jobs. (Hagerty expects to retain 360 jobs and add 226 new employees.) Hagerty also agreed to donate to the city a piece of land worth $685,000, as long as the parking deck is built.

Warehouse District hotel

Downtown Traverse City will likely get its first chain hotel sometime this year with a springtime ground-breaking scheduled for a four-story Hyatt hotel in the Warehouse District.

Opinions on a chain hotel in the district are split, with some neighboring business owners feeling it doesn't mix well with the independent vibe of the area, while others think it will bring more foot traffic to the retail area and be an improvement to what's there now.

The project still has a zoning issue to resolve regarding driveways and that may be handled by an amendment to the zoning code. Beyond that, the project is ultimately in the hands of the economy. A consultant on the project said a couple of months ago that things had been slowed by the credit crunch.

RiverWest (Pine Street One Development LLC)

State brownfield tax credits totaling $1.6 million and state and local tax capture valued at $5.6 million will help Jerry Snowden move ahead with his RiverWest project, which consists of a 140,000 square-foot, mixed-use building, including a multi-screen cinema and restaurants. The river will be the focal point, Snowden said, with an elevated walkway along the river encompassing part of the plans. Project details will be unveiled in January before the City Commission. The project is expected to generate $33 million in new capital investment and create 175 new jobs.

Front & Division medical offices

State and local tax capture valued at $215,645 will support the proposed commercial and parking construction project on Front Street in Traverse City. The new site will address historical contamination issues and provide a new office building for a variety of medical professionals. The project will generate $4.9 million in new capital investment and up to 15 new, full-time jobs. It will also retain 20 jobs, according to the state.

The Inn at the Commons

A boutique hotel is still coming to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, but it's a good year behind schedule.

The $20 million renovation of two former residential halls and a connecting cafeteria into an 84-room hotel, full-service restaurant and banquet hall is headed by John Weeman and Pete DeKalb of Dallas-based Partners In Development. Weeman is a long-time northern Michigan summer resident.

DeKalb said the asbestos abatement is complete and other environmental remediation continues, but now the wait for the economy is on. He said investors in the project are waiting for the banks to make a commitment and the banks are asking for a little more time.

The Inn was originally scheduled to open this spring. Now, the spring of 2010 "would be wonderful," he said, but that would also mean all the financing would need to come together in the next few months.

"We don't see any risks that should jeopardize the project," DeKalb said. "We're just in the muck with everyone else."

Acme development

Acme's long-held desire to create a village anchored by a large retail store remains strong, and the small town just might find what it's looking for in a new proposal calling for an unnamed big box-store near the southwest side of the intersection of Bates Road and M-72.

The 150,000-square-foot store would be part of a 271,000-square-foot retail shopping center – not to be confused with another plan involving Meijer that ignited intense community battles in recent years. This latest proposal, by Generations Management LLC, is for a spot two miles east of that site.

The proposal is in the final stages of receiving special permit use approval, said Township Manager Sharon Vreeland. "We're very close to finalizing the details," said Vreeland, who hopes to see a recommendation made to the township board within the next couple of months.

YMCA

The Grand Traverse Bay YMCA's plans to build a new facility by 2010 received a boost last month when Rotary Charities of Traverse City awarded the organization a capital grant of $325,000. Also bolstering the effort is the hiring of Dave Eitland, the new director of development and marketing for the local YMCA.

The YMCA's $11.2 million capital campaign calls for the construction of a new facility to be built on about 20 acres along Silver Lake Road, behind the Great Wolf Lodge and just south of West Junior High School. Plans include an eight-lane competitive pool with a diving well and spectator seating. In addition, they'd like to have a recreational pool for families, senior citizens and swimming lessons.

YMCA leaders are eager to replace the existing facility. As they state on their web site, "Our community needs and deserves a new full-service YMCA, and that cannot happen at our current site."

Plenty of people stand to benefit, considering the Y's 65 programs, 11,000 program users, 3,000 members, 35,000 volunteer hours, not to mention the new Y Child Care Center opening in recent weeks.

The Lear building

They had faith and now they have the money. So, prepare for a lot of action at the former Lear Corp. building on South Airport Road this year. Faith Reformed Church purchased the building for $1.85 million and hopes to resurrect it into the church's main hub and a community center by Easter 2010. The building had been vacant for almost four years.

Along with office space for its 30 employees, the new building will have an 800-seat auditorium, a commercial-sized kitchen, high-tech media studio and coffee shop.

It will also serve as a centralized location for social service organizations, such as Michigan Works, Father Fred, and the Goodwill Inn.

SkipStone Crossing

An increase in environmental and fiscal concerns has spurred the Smart Growth movement in communities across the country, and SkipStone Crossing, a five-acre mixed-use development on Munson Avenue in Traverse City, is a prime example of that push. The mix of housing, shops, services and offices will be anchored by a three-floor "green" upscale hotel, due to be completed this summer.

The management team will aim to achieve the highest Green Lodging Michigan certification possible (Leader), which is not surprising considering the hotel will be headed by Traverse City influencer Alex Mowczan, who owns the Comfort Inn and Best Western on Munson Ave., 25 area apartments, and is poised to become president of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau Board next year.

SkipStone will eventually house a three-story commercial building (70 percent has already been leased) and a retirement community. The Senior Apartment phase will commence when economic conditions improve and funding is in place, according to the company's website.

Mission Brewery and Distillery

Hometown entrepreneurs and restaurateurs Jon Carlson and Greg Lobdell are bringing beer to wine country. The duo will open Mission Brewery and Distillery adjacent to the historic Bowers Harbor Inn this spring. The duo purchased the inn and the 11 acres it sits on in 2005. Last year, 9.5 acres were placed in a conservation easement after they axed plans for a condominium development.

The brewery is part of a 7,000 square-foot development that will also include a wedding and reception facility. Bowers Harbor Inn and The Bowery will remain, but the pair does plan to "re-concept" one of the restaurants.

The company, Northern United Brewing LLC, was recently awarded a seven-year state tax credit valued at $931,000 for brewing and distillery operations in Peninsula Township and in Ann Arbor and Dexter. The company is reportedly investing $5.8 million into the project, which is expected to create 158 jobs at the three locations.

PRODUCTS

priorLIFE

Not every bag has a past, but these certainly do. priorLIFE, a subsidiary of TC-based banner manufacturer Britten Inc., takes outdated event banners and repurposes them into tote bags, wallets and messenger bags for sale. It keeps the banners out of the landfill and creates a one-of-a-kind item you can feel good about carrying.

The products got their first retail exposure over the Thanksgiving weekend at the Grand Traverse Mall and they sold out. They are also available through the e-commerce site, www.priorlife.com/shop.

priorLIFE is working on deals with some NASCAR events this year and it seems the TC Film Festival and Downtown Traverse City Association are interested in putting their old banners to good use, and create some great souvenirs to boot.

Short's Brewing Co.'s six-packs

Short's Brewing Co.'s first six-packs are hitting the shelves this month. Founder/brewer Joe Short has expanded production and distribution by purchasing the old Fitzhugh Manufacturing building in Elk Rapids' industrial park – just north of the town's main intersection on U.S. 31. The 16,000 square-foot facility is quadruple the size of the Bellaire location, and will serve as Short's main brewing, bottling and distribution center.

We'll see his best-selling Huma-Lupa-Licious IPA (named after the hop flower) and the classic Pandemonium Pale Ale for starters. Next on the production line is the Soft Parade and The Bellaire Brown. Expect six-packs to run from $8-$13.

Naturally Nutty Foods, Inc.

Vegetarian mom of three, Katie Kearney was determined to find the perfect peanut butter for her family – so much so that the Traverse City resident ultimately decided she should be the one to create it.

And did she ever create – 12 different flavors of peanut and almond butters, all made with flax and hemp seed. Naturally Nutty Foods, launched in October 2007 by Kearney and husband Tim, features flavors such as cinnamon cherry, mocha, vanilla and butter toffee.

In just over a year's time, Naturally Nutty has found its way not only into specialty shops throughout northern Michigan and Whole Foods stores statewide, but also to businesses in 15 states. "My goal is to be in at least 15 more by the end of next year," she said, adding that online sales are going strong, too.

Watch for three organic sunflower butters around the first of the year. "We will have a chocolate, regular and a cinnamon-vanilla. They are processed by me, in a separate room, on separate equipment and each batch will be tested for peanut and almond proteins so that people with even severe allergies can eat them."

Two Lads' wine

Old Mission's newest tasting room opened for business May 3. It was closed Oct. 6. But owners Chris Baldyga, director of operations, and Cornel Olivier, winemaker, were toasting the occasion, not drowning their sorrows. Two Lads closed its tasting room because it had almost sold out of its initial 1,700 case production, with just one wine remaining for tasting. It will reopen in April with the first wines from its 2008 vintage.

With its ultra-modern facility and determination to make what Baldyga calls the first "red rock star" in a state better known for white varieties, Two Lads has already carved a niche despite a severe early setback. It was hit hard with a late spring frost that initially seemed to devastate two grape varieties. By fall harvest, however, the vineyard was looking better than expected. And Baldyga says the best is yet to come.

"This is one of Old Mission Peninsula's most unique plots. I think we'll realize the vineyards' potential for fruit character in five to seven years," he said.

Two Lads' near-term goal is to scale up to 5,000 to 6,000 cases by 2010 or 2012. Even with that expanded production, by using limited releases and a strong mailing list to build special events like barrel tastings, Baldyga believes selling out may become a tradition.

Riesling

The state's top grape is on a roll, planted on more acres than any other varietal since 2003. It easily outdistances the No. 2 Michigan variety, Chardonnay.

That growth is coinciding with a rising consumer interest. Riesling does barely register on the scale when considered against varieties like Chardonnay or Merlot. But it's been the fastest-growing white variety for the last few years and has gotten a lot of valuable press. Back in June, Michigan Riesling specifically got an endorsement from well-regarded Wall Street Journal and husband-and-wife wine columnists John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter.

Some three dozen Michigan wineries make a Riesling variety, led by Chateau Grand Traverse, Michigan's largest producer, which expected to bottle 50,000 cases of Riesling from its 2008 harvest. Riesling accounts for 80 percent of the winery's sales and brothers Ed and Sean O'Keefe have both been active in promoting the grape with the creation of the International Riesling Foundation in 2007.

In a major turnabout, Chateau Grand Traverse started selling its Riesling at a California grocery chain in 2007. Last year, California vintner Scott Harvey released a Riesling made at Forty-Five North. (See Shawn Walters pg. 11.)

Look for Riesling's star to continue to rise in 2009.

Tellurex's cooling engines

First they revved up the car market with a device that cools or heats beverages. Now, the ever-innovative Traverse City thermoelectric products' manufacturer has rolled out four new compact and powerful cooling engines with matching temperature controllers for thermal management applications.

The products can control heat build-up inside an enclosure, or, if necessary, can heat in cold environments on demand. They can also be used to control the temperature of objects in many environments by direct contact (cold plate models) or cooling/heating enclosure air (air-to-air models).

The cooling engines, controllers and power supplies all come equipped with connectors, making these air conditioners the first truly "plug and play" products in the thermoelectric cooling category.

"We're excited about the power and compactness of these new engines," said Charles Cauchy, president of Tellurex. "We see applications in a very diverse marketplace, ranging from the automotive and food service markets, to process temperature control, testing and laboratory applications, to virtually anywhere electronic equipment is creating a thermal management problem."

LED lighting by XUS

The future is bright for XUS, a Traverse City company specializing in developing green technology and sustainable lighting solutions for business, municipalities, and homeowners.

Headed by former auto executive Bob Gray, XUS manufacturers mercury-free LED lighting for streetlights, parking lots, garages, industrial and factory uses, and residential.

LED, or light-emitting diodes, are solid-state semiconductor devices that convert electrical energy directly into visible light. In addition to providing a minimum of 50 percent savings in energy output, LEDs also offer longer life, burn 100 degrees cooler than regular lights and are compact in size.

From its corporate office and design showroom in Holland, and main TC plant at 2525 Aero Park Dr. and second facility at 2488 Cass Rd, we expect XUS to be in the spotlight in '09.

Selestial Soap

Jim Legato and Ruth Smith, owners of Eastfield Laundry, may be on to something. They have created an all natural, non-sudsing, hypoallergenic liquid laundry detergent called "Selestial Soap" that's marketed with a timely theme: "Saving the Planet within Your Budget." The soap is currently being sold at Eastfield Laundry, but they are in the process of getting distribution set up to grocery store outlets. The detergent will cost significantly less than competitive natural products, such as Seventh Generation. Maybe the perfect detergent for all those new, green-collar jobs to come?

Wind power industry

Speaking of green, according to some reports, 50,000 jobs could be created from a fully harnessed wind industry – from construction to assembly to engineering and research. Heritage Sustainable Energy is on the leading edge of the shift to wind power in Michigan with one most significant projects in the state: Stoney Corners. The project involves the installation of two modern, multi-megawatt turbines in southern Missaukee County. These turbines-towering 475 feet from ground to blade tip-are designed to generate energy to power 1,400 to 1,600 homes. Led by energy industry executive Martin Lagina, the project will be the first phase of a $330 million project to build 60 windmills on 12,000 acres.

Other companies tapping into wind power:

– Underground utility provider I-KON of Glen Arbor is tapping into the state and national windmill market with a directional drilling product. The current project in southwest Michigan calls for 100 windmills with another 200 in the drawing stage. I-KON's product allows pipe and fiber optic cable to be placed under environmentally-sensitive areas, such as farmland where crops might be damaged.

"John Deere and DTE have committed to another 100 windmills for 2009 and with the passing of the new energy incentive by our state government, (we) will see more in the near future," said I-KON president Randy Thomas.

– Windemuller, with offices in Traverse City, has been involved with renewable energy since 2001 when it installed its first wind turbine. Today it offers services for wind turbines, ethanol plants, and solar panels.

– Crystal Mountain Resort of Thompsonville is heading into its third year of purchasing wind power to run the resort's high-speed chairlift this winter. Powering the Crystal Clipper chairlift with wind power prevents 174,000 pounds of carbon dioxide-a major contributor to global warming, according to Renewable Choice Energy-from polluting the atmosphere each year.

Grand Traverse Insider

Launched in June 2008 by combining the Grand Traverse Shoppers Guide and The Adviser, the Grand Traverse Insider lands on over 40,000 porches every Saturday evening in the Grand Traverse region and is also available at newsstands. Touting itself as a "good news" newspaper, the publication is making some in-roads in the local media market with its positive, community-oriented focus and scored a major advertising coup when Meijer pulled its sales insert from the Record-Eagle and gave the account to the Insider. The publication is currently owned by Morning Star Publishing Co.

Comments

comments