The Myth of ‘Overdevelopment’

It didn’t take long for hot button issues to emerge as candidates began to come forth for this year’s Traverse City election. The city’s so-called “overdevelopment” was among the first talking points in the election run-up – making it an issue that deserves a closer look.

It’s unfortunate the extent to which this fear-based rhetoric regarding the city’s impressive growth has gained traction in some parts of the community. For whatever reason, the private and public investment Traverse City has experienced – growth many regions would give their figurative right arm for – are seen as damaging the city’s “small town character.”

But like too many sound bites and simplifications in political discourse these days, it doesn’t hold up. To assert that the city’s growth is somehow excessive begs for specifics on how what’s happened isn’t a significant improvement over what’s been replaced.

Is the Hagerty/River’s Edge/Midtown area along Cass Street a vast upgrade from an abandoned smelting plant and row of deteriorating warehouses? Are Radio Centre and the adjacent public parking deck better than the old gas station there before? Is the 101 North Park Street project preferable to the tire shop that preceded it? Is downtown more exciting with the State Theatre and City Opera House as vibrant community attractions – or was it better when downtown had no suitable performance venues? Would we prefer NMC’s Great Lakes Campus on Front Street rather than the ice house and factory site it replaced?

Are the downtown’s pedestrian- and bike-friendly streetscapes better than the crumbling and often empty sidewalks of decades past? Is Old Town improved with a public parking deck providing workers and visitors access to this unique slice of the city’s business center? Is the amazing evolution of downtown’s Warehouse District and Hall Street corridor preferable to the checkerboard of weedy lots and deteriorating eyesores being replaced?

In every instance, the answer is a resounding “yes!” And don’t even get me started on the quality of the open space compared to having a power plant sitting on it.

But don’t stop there. Taking it to the end, which area companies, jobs and residents who’ve relocated here over the past 10 to 20 years made it too “crowded” and we’d be better off without; and how much home and commercial property value would people be willing to give back to have things more “the way they used to be?”

The reality is that in many ways, the city is still “underdeveloped.” The community hasn’t kept up with building the infrastructure needed to support its commercial and residential population growth. It hasn’t created the housing stock needed across its wide income levels. Our public transportation system needs to continue its positive evolution, the education system must be maintained, and access to quality child care has never been more critical.

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle when it comes to the popularity of the Traverse City area. Unique natural features and resources, quality of life and national and international recognition as a premiere destination will shape this region for generations to come. The questions aren’t how do we turn back the clock or blunt the gains that have been made. The real progress will come from leaders – public and private – who will work to make the region the best it can be to ensure everyone in our community can share in its success.

Doug Luciani is the CEO of TraverseCONNECT and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him by email at