The TCBN Hot List 2012
In a region like northern Michigan, where the population is booming, small town economies are fighting to right themselves, and the community aspires to both grow and preserve, the future isn't ever certain. But it sure is fascinating to watch. Here, the TCBN casts an eye on the newsmakers likely to capture the headlines in the days ahead.
BIG CHANGES TO BROWNFIELD FUNDING
With the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax last year, some popular and essential development programs were put in limbo, including brownfield tax credits, which have made possible some of the highest-profile improvements to the local cityscapes. Established in 1999, the incentive programs have helped fund numerous projects across the state, including the Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City.
However, in mid-December Gov. Snyder OK'd the Community Revitalization Program, which puts some funding and incentives for brownfield development back on the books. According to Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R- Traverse City), the new legislation is more transparent than the old law and, instead of tax credits, the state will appropriate money to developers up-front. "The next year might be a little bouncy and rocky as people adjust to the new guidelines," he admits, "but there are still great incentives out there."
Despite the changing laws, Jean Derenzy, the brownfield coordinator for Grand Traverse County, says ongoing brownfield projects such as Copper Ridge and River's Edge in Traverse City, which received funding under the old legislation, will continue to get tax credits until they are eventually phased out.
In other 2012 brownfield news: Trudy Galla, of the Leelanau County Brownfield Authority, hopes to have an announcement by spring about new brownfield developments in her county. Recently LCBRA announced money still remains from its $200,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, and the group is on the hunt for any potential brownfield sites to which it might apply the leftover grant money.
TCAPS TACKLING PROPERTY VALUE LOSSES
Property values around Traverse City have been declining, and that's putting TCAPS reconstruction plans on hold. Paul Soma, CFO, says the district has lost more than $2.6 million dollars in taxes over the past two years, with property values dropping around two percent each year. Superintendent Steve Cousins estimates that within four years, TCAPS could lose up to $26 million. Because of these numbers, he says that reconstruction that was planned in 2012 for three area elementary schools - Interlochen, Eastern, and Glenn Loomis – probably won't happen for another three years.
TCAPS isn't taking the tightened budget lightly. It formed an action team that recently put together a facilities recommendation plan for the next five years. The finance and operations committee has been reviewing the plan now and hopes to bring it to the school board in January.
In other district news, Bertha Vos, which closed in 2008, will reopen in the fall, offering Montessori and International Baccalaureate programs for elementary students. Norris Elementary, which was put up for sale in August, does have a buyer, and Superintendent Cousins tells the TCBN he expects a closing date in early 2012.
THE PUSHCART WARS
Once the snow melts and temperatures warm, vendors will begin to set up in downtown Traverse City hoping to sell their goods. However, thanks to the many complaints the city received in regards to the retail tent city that popped up along East Front Street next to the Chase Bank Building last summer, transient vendors will have to contend with a new Peddler's Ordinance. Under the ordinance, vendors must remove their structures between midnight and 6 a.m. The structures also cannot be left unattended for more than two hours at a time. Will this reduce the incentive for some peddlers to pop their tents on Front Street this summer? The TCBN is guessing yes.
THE RISE OF LAKE LEELANAU
There's big festival news coming out of Lake Leelanau this year. The community's big three events – Walleye (May), Pancake Breakfast (July) and Blues Fest (September) will become one big festival in 2012: the Walleye & Music Festival. An exact date is expected in January. Lake Leelanau Community Association chairman Tony West tells the TCBN the date is either going to be Labor Day or Columbus Day weekend. Why the change? "It was just too much stress on the community and coordinators to try and plan three big events during a short period of time," says Tony West. "We want to make this festival the staple of Lake Leelanau." A tentative schedule includes: Friday golf outing, Saturday fishing tournament and music festival, and Sunday morning pancake breakfast.
Land like this doesn't come along very often – 104 acres, completely undeveloped, with 1,700 feet of shoreline on both Lake Michigan and North Lake Leelanau. A recent appraisal valued it at $5.8 million. The hottest piece of real estate on the market? Fortunately, no. Instead, it is a top fundraising priority for the Leelanau Conservancy in 2012 that – if successful – will open up the land as a public natural area into perpetuity.
The magical number for the Clay Cliffs property in northern Leland Township is $1.5 million. Total purchase price is $6.2 million, which includes funds for a parking area, loop trails and other improvements, as well as a stewardship endowment. If a grant award from the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program comes through, it would trim that number to the $500,000 range. The Conservancy expects to hear whether that award is on its way soon, according to Executive Director Brian Price.
The rest of the math: $2.93 from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and a 25 percent donation of the land's value from the seller Rachel Crary. Crary is one of four children of the late Doug Crary, who purchased the Clay Cliffs property in the early 1950s. He had told Price that he had always hoped the land could be protected one day.
RAIL SERVICE UP NORTH
A plan to bring trains to Traverse City is getting back on track. But don't buy your tickets just yet. Last year, the "Up North" railroad was at the bottom of the state's priority list for improving passenger and freight rail. This year, however, Jim Bruckbauer of the Michigan Land Use Institute says things are looking up. A new survey showed a growing interest in train travel among Michigan residents. Plus, Bruckbauer says Gov. Snyder is on board with improving rail service - though first downstate, and then elsewhere.
"First, improvements need to be made to the rail line between Detroit and Chicago," Bruckbauer says. "Then, the economic case needs to be made to upgrade the tracks for freight rail. Once the tracks are upgraded, we can start talking about passenger rail."
If funding is approved, MDOT could begin a feasibility study in the next year or so. But that's only the first step.
"It's going to be a while, but as people continue to express dissatisfaction with how traditional road funding works, they're starting to demand more options," Bruckbauer adds. "This is one. And we see movement in the right direction."
After five years of operating out of a local warehouse, Hazelnut Kids owner Tracy Coe has found a retail opportunity for her fair trade, organic toy business in Traverse City. This year, Hazelnut Kids will lease a small space in downtown Traverse City's Green Island store, which will be relocating from Union Street to Front Street – just around the corner from its current storefront.
"For us, it's just a matter of having more local visibility," Coe says. "It's a way to balance our business."
Coe says she had a busy holiday season last month, but she especially looks forward the summer tourist traffic, when she anticipates she will truly reap the benefits of moving into a retail spot. In the meantime, she says she is also working on redefining the Hazelnut brand with a new logo and website redesign. HazelnutKids.com.
GRAND TRAVERSE INDUSTRIES' REASON TO SMILE
At the end of 2011, SmileSaver, manufacturer of the SmileSaver Disposable Toothbrush, began exporting its product overseas to Lifestyles Limited of London. As a result Grand Traverse Industries (GTI) is looking to further expand both its sales and its personnel, adding a contract, sales and marketing person.
Steve H. Perdue, CEO of GTI, says that the local and state Economic Development Corporations have assisted in preparing resources that will help local companies get into exporting, although he says SmileSaver was an "accidental exporter," because Limited of London pursued them. This year, he plans to identify other possible distributors to trade with in other countries in addition to building upon existing relationships.
"Retailers started moving away from one-SKU products about three years ago," Perdue says. "Cabela's and Rite-Aid booted us out, but when we go to the smaller retailers and have dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of customers, we're glad to take those smaller sales. They're adding up now."
If elected this November, Derek Bailey, 39, will be the first Native American from the Midwest to serve in the U.S. Congress. Bailey is looking to unseat Republican Rep. Dan Benishek for Michigan's 1st Congressional District, which stretches from Mason County in northwest lower Michigan across the entire Upper Peninsula – the largest district in Congress in terms of square miles.
Tribal chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians since 2008, Bailey has built a reputation as a "bridge builder" and is in his second year of serving on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education – appointed by President Obama.
But before Bailey gets to Benishek, he'll have to win the Democratic primary against Gary McDowell. There's no question that he's facing tough odds, and has to prove himself a viable candidate – financially, especially – to the political machine in Washington.
WHAT'S UP WITH THE BOX ON THE BOARDMAN?
The former Fitness Center building on Boardman will continue to undergo major renovations this year. The building was bought by Matt and Victoria Sutherland last March and renamed "The Box on Boardman." A month later the couple moved their business, Foreword Reviews Magazine, from Front Street to the top floor of the new location. Renovations recently began on the main level, which will be turned into an apartment for the Sutherlands. "Our goal is to build an incredible loft-style residence similar to what you might see in bigger cities, but using materials that are locally sourced and mostly recycled," says Victoria.
Even though it took Michael Moore and Michigan's film incentive program to really put movies on the Traverse City map, this year local guy Rich Brauer is celebrating his 35th year of making films professionally in northern Michigan. His latest production, Dogman, just had its red carpet release at the State Theatre last month. Mr. Art Critic, Frozen Stupid, Barn Red and That One Summer are a few of Brauer's other feature length films released over the last several years.
Even though he is enjoying increased notoriety in the feature filmmaking world, Brauer is busy as ever with his bread and butter day job – TV spots and other video and audio production for a stream of local, regional and national commercial clients.
GRAND TRAVERSE DISTILLERY
Good news for spirit lovers: Northern Michigan's micro-distillery is expanding. After opening his first off-site tasting room/retail location in Leland last spring, Grand Traverse Distillery owner Kent Rabish says he's currently looking for a spot in southern Michigan to open his second one. Eventually, Rabish plans to have several tasting rooms around the state. Between the nearly six-year-old distillery in Traverse City, the Leland shop and distributor sales, he says sales have doubled compared to 2010. By the end of 2011 he has recorded a near 75-percent increase in volume.
Imbibers of the artisanal spirits are also going to need to make room in their liquor cabinets for his latest creations – a Bourbon Whiskey and an un-aged 100 percent corn whiskey (aka "moonshine" or "white dog whiskey"). Next up? A Grand Traverse Distillery gin and rum. Cheers!
TC LIGHT & POWER
Will Traverse City Light & Power propose a new plan for local energy generation this year? That's up to you. The community-owned utility is launching a survey of all of its customers, from single-family residences to large ratepayers (i.e. manufacturers that use a lot of electricity), to get feedback on the issue of local generation.
Also this year, in line with TCL&P's goal of generating 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, officials are moving ahead with a community solar project – or at least moving ahead with further study. Though solar energy would be a small part of TCL&P's energy portfolio given the area's low sunshine quotient compared to other parts of the country, it demonstrates a commitment to alternative sources. The idea is this: customers will be able to buy or rent a portion of one of the solar panels and receive a proportional energy credit (much like the utility's previous Green Rate for its wind turbine). Specifics concerning a centrally-located spot, cost of ownership, virtual metering and carbon-offset verification are currently being worked out. Interested in participating? Sign up at tclp.org.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE: BOARDMAN LAKE AVENUE
It's been discussed and debated for more than a decade. But is 2012 finally the year Traverse City will decide whether or not to build the Boardman Lake Avenue? The plans are still in the early stages with grant applications, consultants and conceptual drawings, but City Manager Ben Bifoss says the city hopes to have a final decision by mid-year.
The projected $4.5 million road is intended to ease heavy traffic throughout the Old Town neighborhood, especially on Cass and Union streets. At last blueprint, the avenue would run along the lake's edge from 14th to Eighth Streets, connecting to Eighth where Copy Central now stands. A recent survey found about 6,000 drivers a day use Union and Cass to get to 14th Street. The same survey estimates that, if constructed, the road could cut traffic in that area by more than 30 percent.
So, what roadblocks does the proposal face? Mandated by MDOT, the city would have to relocate a railroad wye along Boardman Lake to a tune of more than $1 million. Bifoss says the city has already taken this into consideration and will be meeting with MDOT early this year to discuss moving the wye to Garfield Township across from the TCAPS bus garage. The city would also have to decide where the road would intersect with 14th and Eighth streets.
Some critics argue that, along with a steep cost, the proposed road might actually cause traffic backups around other areas of town. But those in favor of the road say it's long overdue and needs to be done now. "I totally support the project and will vote for it," says City Commissioner Mary Ann Moore.
HOMESTRETCH/HABITAT DEPOT DEVELOPMENT AT THE DEPOT PROPERTY
A preliminary purchase agreement has long been in place between the city and Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse Region and HomeStretch for the 2.5-acre lot that sits north of the old brick depot buildings near Woodmere Avenue and Eighth Street in Traverse City. But expect real action soon. HomeStretch Executive Director Bill Merry tells the TCBN that he expects the $280,000 sale to be final in January and that construction on new affordable housing there could begin this spring. He says 21 units will be built over a multi-year phase, and each unit would go for about $110,000 with zero-percent interest rates. Once the purchase agreement is finalized, two public meetings will be held to look over floor plans and start a tenant waiting list. Merry says he hopes to see some residents in their new homes by 2013. One-third of the land will also be sold to a developer for private development.
In other affordable housing news: HomeStretch is looking for a site to build an apartment complex for homeless families in the area, however, Merry says that project is still two years away.
GT BAY YMCA
At press time, with just 10 days remaining of the campaign's 2:1 challenge fundraising period, there was more than $1 million still to raise. But one thing is for sure: It was a fast and furious last couple of months for the Y's $12 million capital campaign to build a new facility. With the fundraising effort seemingly stalled out at the halfway point, a much-needed momentum push came last fall in the form of an anonymous challenge pledge: Raise $4 million by Dec. 31 and it will be matched by $2 million to complete the campaign. Community response was phenomenal – during one recent 24-hour period, the Y received four gifts and pledges totaling $765,000. As of December 31, the answer will be clear: Either construction begins as soon as the ground thaws or it looks like 2012 will be another fundraising year for the local YMCA.
OLD FEDERICO'S BUILDING
The building, formerly home to Federico's Design Jewelers, was bought by Jeff Schwartz early last year for $530,000. He says a lot of people are eager to know what he's going to do with the space, but he still doesn't have a definite answer. "Currently we are looking at several options which include national chains and local stores," says Schwartz, "but we just aren't sure which direction we want to go yet." The entrepreneur adds many parties have approached him about the building, including several restaurants and a financial institute. Schwartz is also exploring the opportunity of converting the upper level into an apartment for his wife and him, and says he might also expand the building north.
HISTORIC BARNS & BOTANIC GARDENS
The Historic Barns Park and Garden will benefit this year from a $300,000 grant, matched by $150,000 in donations. The money will build a paved trail along Silver Lake Road, providing pedestrian and bicycle access from Copper Ridge to the park and to downtown. Funds will also be used to create a picnic grove and wildlife viewing platform at the end of the park. Executive Director Matt Cowall hopes the trail will be completed this summer.
Meanwhile, the $1.5 million capital fundraising for major renovations to the Historic Barns & Botanic Garden is still in full force. Work is targeted to begin in 2013, but Cowall says things are looking good and is hopeful to start sooner than that. "The quiet phase of the campaign is ongoing and on track for a public phase starting this spring or summer," says Cowall. "We want the quiet campaign to meet the lion's share of the fundraising before taking the effort public for that final exciting push." The first phase of the Cathedral Barn improvements is expected to cost around $750,000. The adjacent Historic Barn will be targeted for improvements in subsequent rounds of fundraising. When in full bloom, the botanic garden will take up 25 acres at the Historic Barns Park, and feature a green house, native outdoor plants and hiking trails.
Renovation of the 13,000-square-foot Chapel Building at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons is in the midst of its transformation into a multi-purpose event area, which could include Sunday worship and weddings. Crews are currently working on the common area and adding an elevator, entrance and access ramps. Developer Raymond Minervini is still looking for a restaurant for the lower part of the chapel, after plans to open FouFou, a French bistro, were pulled. Renovations on the chapel aren't expected to be completed until 2013.
More housing at The Village of Grand Traverse Commons: The north end of Building 50 and Cottage 19 is under contract for a high-end senior living housing development and a small assisted-living facility. The purchaser of the estimated $25 million project, with around 110 apartments, is Grand Traverse Senior Living. Minervini hopes for construction to begin after the first quarter of 2012, with some residents moving into their new homes by 2013. Also under contract is an affordable housing development at Cottage 36, with 29 units.
Drawer Décor is about to have a very big year. Invented by Keith Nielson, a Traverse City native and co-owner of KMN Home LLC, the Drawer Décor silicone kitchenware organizer launched in mid-2011 was recently picked up by Amazon.com, is looking forward to a television premiere on QVC this month, and as this issue went to press, was named a finalist in the 9th Annual Housewares Design Awards, the premier design competition in the Housewares industry. KMN VP of Web Tommy Hills says the accolades are a major accomplishment for KMN.
"We've all known each other since the second or third grade, and we always kind of talked about having a business together" Hills says of the startup's four owners. "We're finally off and launched and moving forward."
This year, the company has some new products in the works, including a device that Hills describes as a "combination of a trivet and a hot pad made of silicone."
KMN is also developing a more traditional silverware drawer that will pair with the existing Drawer Décor product and be available in the same colors. DrawerDecor.com.
MESICK'S MASTER PLAN
Mesick is looking toward 2012 with the creation of a new master plan can initiate community growth while capturing Mesick's essence as a small town where snowmobilers, fishermen, hikers and – of course – morel mushroom seekers gather. With a community growth grant recently acquired from the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, the Village is eager to solidify some of its ideas.
"A master plan will enable us to look into the future," says Village President Bruce Howell. "When we have one in place, it will help us find funding for other projects that we would want to do also."
Filling empty storefronts, designing a more walkable downtown streetscape and creating a "strong sense of space" are some of the ideas on the town's drawing board. Although Howell says that "tourist dollars are important to [Mesick], too," the Village does not wish to base its future design on those of any established up north communities, such as Suttons Bay.
Howell also says that other goals include raising funds to paint the Village's water tower, and to bring natural gas into the region, which he says will "help residents financially and bring other businesses into the community." VillageofMesick.com.
SHARING GARLAND STREET, CALMING OTHERS
Walking down the middle of the street usually isn't a good idea, but later this year that's what pedestrians will be doing on one local road. Come fall, part of Garland Street by the warehouse district will be transformed into a "shared-street," and shared equally among pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. Russ Soyring, TC's director of planning, says this type of street is designed to force drivers to slow down.
"It's been done in Europe and was very successful," he says. "We want the streets to be friendly to everyone."
New road designs like this aren't the only changes you could see in 2012. Other streets around Traverse City are also eligible for help in calming traffic. If a residential street meets certain guidelines, such as at least one in seven cars speeding, the city can do things like build up curbs, narrow roads and install speed bumps or stop signs. But it does come at a price. While the city pays for 75 percent of the improvements, people living on the street must pay the rest. Some of the streets the city has received complaints about and will review include Wayne, West Front and Sheridan.