What to Watch: What will make headlines in 2023
It’s January and that means it’s time for the TCBN’s list of happenings in and around Traverse City as we head into the New Year. Here are 16 of the people, places, and products to watch, including FishPass, the community of Kingsley, new hotels in and around TC, the arrival of commercial cannabis, inflation and labor, and much more.
8 NEW HOTELS
Fall 2022 was hotel building season, with no fewer than eight new hotels either in site preparation mode or fully under construction.
If all those hotels are built as planned, they would add nearly 800 rooms to Traverse City’s room capacity – a 20 percent increase over the 4,000 hotel rooms that already exist. Here’s a quick rundown.
Tru by Hilton: This four-story, 90-room hotel in Garfield Township will soon join the area’s hospitality industry – if it hasn’t already. As of press time, Fritz Heller, the president of hotel developer Northern Michigan Hospitality Management (NMHM), said he was expecting the certificate of occupancy for Tru to come through by the end of December and that the hotel would likely “be selling rooms by January.” The hotel is located on US-31 South, across from Panera Bread.
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott: With Tru done, NMHM is gearing up to build a four-story, 95-room Fairfield right next door on US-31 South. Heller said that all permitting is complete and that construction should kick off in the spring, with a target opening date of May 2024.
Avid: A four-story, 92-room Avid Hotel is under construction on the US-31 North parcel in East Bay Township previously occupied by Wendy’s restaurant. Lake Michigan Hospitality 31 LLC, the developer, demolished the Wendy’s in August to make way. Andy Abro, an equity partner/owner of Lake Michigan Hospitality 31 LLC, had previously estimated a completion date of September 2023; he did not return a request for a status report.
Residence Inn by Marriott and Staybridge Suites: Construction is also underway at another property in East Bay Township, this one the former home of Pebble Brook Adventure Park. Those projects have been in the works since 2018, with COVID-19 forcing the developer – the Farmington Hills-based Premier Hospitality – to reapply for site plan review with the township. Now, construction is finally underway, with the same concept as in 2018. Both hotels will be six stories, with the Residence Inn boasting 123 rooms and the Staybridge Suites 122. Also planned is an 8,692-square-foot restaurant/retail space with could host a restaurant, drive-through coffee shop, or other uses. The project is on track for a phased buildout with a late spring/early summer 2024 completion.
Hyatt House: An extended-stay Hyatt House hotel is also bound for East Bay between the Traverse City State Park campground and the Hampton Inn. The hotel will include 143 rooms across five stories, as well as a 4,153-square-foot restaurant with outdoor seating. Construction hasn’t broken ground yet, according to developer Chris Abbo, but he said he and his team “are near completion of our drawings, have started estimating the project, and are trying to time it out for a second or third quarter 2023 start.” Abbo is hopeful the hotel would be ready to open by “first quarter of 2025.”
The Alexandra Inn: The smallest on the way is the Alexandria Inn, a 32-room boutique inn on US-31 between Pointes North and Gens Park. According to Ali Wuerful, director of operations for Wuerful Resorts – which will develop, own and operate the new inn – the project has moved ahead quickly since it was approved by East Bay Township last spring.
“Since April we have received the necessary permits, completed subsurface improvements, poured footers and building slab, and are currently constructing the hotel,” she said.
The Alexandra Inn should open sometime this coming spring.
The inn will feature private beach access, as well as a rooftop bar and lounge.
Marriott Autograph: Jeff Schmitz, the developer who brought Hotel Indigo to Traverse City a decade ago, is now bringing another to the Warehouse District. That project will be four stories and will encompass approximately 100 rooms, plus a restaurant, three bars, and a rooftop space similar to Indigo’s.
With core planning approvals now in place, Schmitz says his development group – the downstate-based J.S. Capitol – has already started excavation.
“We’re definitely going to open in 2024, I just don’t know the dates yet,” Schmitz said. “We’re trying to fast-track the project by precasting the entire facility and panelizing the building, so that we don’t have to deal with winter construction interruptions like I did with the Indigo.”
For years, this small northern Michigan town has been referred to – perhaps unfairly – as one of Traverse City’s bedroom communities. That conversation hasn’t died down in recent years, as rising housing prices and limited residential inventory in Traverse City have forced more people who work in TC to live elsewhere.
But Kingsley seems to be ready for its reputation as a bedroom community to drift away. Significant growth and development is playing out in Kingsley, and those trends have the potential to turn the town into a thriving little city all its own. Here’s a sampling:
Brownson Park transformation
Kingsley was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to revitalize Brownson Memorial Park, which is essentially the town’s main square. The money, which comes from the state’s Public Gathering Spaces Initiative, will pay for a substantial transformation of the 2.4-acre park, including new walking paths, fitness stations, splash pad upgrades, perimeter fencing, ground surfacing, upgraded playground equipment, ADA-friendly structures and amenities, and equipment to support park events like festivals, local business activities, and the recently revamped Kingsley Market. The village also received an additional $50,000 “Assets for Thriving Communities” grant as part of the Rotary Charities of Traverse City fall grant cycle, with the money earmarked for the Brownson Park project.
A new brewpub and beer garden
“We will be welcoming at least two new businesses into the area (in 2023),” said Max Anderson, chair of the Kingsley Downtown Development Authority and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Board. The first is Kingsley Local Brewing Company, which is setting up shop in the historic building located at 121 Brownson Ave. Pete Kirkwood, owner of Traverse City’s Workshop Brewing Company, is behind the project.
According to Terry Beia of Southtown Property Management – which controls roughly half of the commercial property in Kingsley, including the lease on 121 Brownson Ave. – Kirkwood is “putting the final touches in preparation for opening his brewpub.” Beia expects that having a downtown brewery “will be a game-changer in Kingsley,” not least because the project will also include a dynamic outdoor beer garden with food trucks, not unlike Traverse City’s Little Fleet.
A new downtown restaurant
The other new business Anderson referenced is a new and improved restaurant located at the old Kingsley Inn, a space most recently occupied by Judson Market & Restaurant. Brian McAllister of Hofbrau in Interlochen recently signed a long-term lease/option-to-purchase contract with Beia’s Southtown Property Management for the 211 E. Main St. building.
Beia said that his company is conveying the liquor license for the property to the tenants, and that McAllister and company will likely be open in early 2023.
“A good, sit-down family restaurant is something the community has asked for over the years, and we are confident that Brian is the person to lead the effort long-term,” Anderson said of the project.
Other downtown development
Both Southtown Property Management and the Kingsley DDA have other plans that could reshape downtown Kingsley.
First, Beia said that Southtown is in the process of interviewing prospective tenants for one of its key properties: the former J. Wall Diner space at 413 W Main St. Though J. Wall Diner only opened its doors in August 2021, the business was short-lived and ultimately closed down.
That closure, Beia noted, has left Kingsley lacking the old “greasy spoon” breakfast model. He says he is hopeful to find someone to take over that space.
“The only other vacant building that we have in town is the former car wash on Clark Street, across from J. Wall Diner,” he said. “Our ideal tenant for that space will be a coffee shop/bakery. The building will require significant improvements prior to move in, but I’m hopeful that we can have it leased sometime in calendar year 2023.”
While those two buildings represent the last of Southtown’s vacant properties, another Southtown asset could become available in 2023: the current home of Kingsley Lumber at 311 S. Brownson Ave.
“We are in the very early stages of working with the management of Kingsley Lumber to find a suitable upgraded property to relocate the business and free up that valuable downtown parcel,” Beia said. Kingsley Lumber is located directly adjacent to Bronson Memorial Park.
“Ideally, the Kingsley Lumber property would be better suited for a tasteful mixed-use commercial/residential development,” Beia said.
Cherryland Center stopped being the “center” of anything many years ago – arguably all the way back in 1992 when Grand Traverse Mall set up shop less than three miles away. But could this once-prosperous hub of local commerce become an epicenter of activity in 2023?
This year could be the renaissance. The Traverse City Curling Club is set to open its new curling center this month in the former Kmart building. That building has been vacant since 2017, when Sears Holdings Co. announced it was closing 49 Kmart stores. But Traverse City Curling Club finalized a deal in June to purchase the 28,000 square foot building – plus its adjacent parking lot – and convert it into a local hub for the increasingly popular sport.
The Traverse City Curling Center, which will occupy a third of the old Kmart space, is slated to open later this month, complete with a social area, warming kitchen, meeting room, curling pro shop and five sheets of dedicated curling ice. The Curling Center will then host league play for the TC Curling Club, learn-to-curl classes for beginners and more.
The other two-thirds of the building – approximately 55,000 square feet – are being renovated and brought up to white box standards, at which point they will be available for lease.
The Curling Club and its eventual tenants aren’t the only new fixtures coming to Cherryland Center. The old Sears building – vacant since 2018 – is also currently being revitalized. Ulysses Walls, an Alpena-based cardiologist, purchased the 100,000-square-foot building and is planning to open a K1 Speed indoor go kart racing franchise there.
K1 Speed is an indoor go kart racing company with more than 60 locations worldwide, including one other Michigan location in Oxford. K1 Speed specializes in 20-horsepower electric go karts that can reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour for adult riders and 20 miles per hour for junior riders. Walls is hopeful the business will be ready to open by June.
Beyond go karts, the Traverse City K1 Speed location will host a restaurant – called the Paddock Lounge – and a video game arcade. Walls also noted that a K1 Speed facility only demands about 50,000 square feet of space, leaving about half of the Sears building vacant for some other use.
“My thought is to use the front part of the building for K1, and the other half for something like Sky Zone (trampoline park franchise),” he said.
Walls also floated the possibility of laser tag or indoor putt-putt golf coming to the K1 Speed facility at some point in the future.
In Walls’ view, go karts and curling are concepts that make sense for repurposing old big box buildings like the Cherryland Center. He thinks those types of indoor recreation hold the key for revitalizing the mall into a new focal point of local commercial traffic.
“These large buildings – something needs to be done with them,” Walls said. “The mall has been closed for a long time, and there’s not a need for that much retail space anymore. What do you do with something like that? Indoor entertainment and activities make the most sense. Our use goes really well with the curling club. Our hope is that whole (mall property) will become a family entertainment complex.”
NITTOLO’S IN LAKE LEELANAU
On the heels of launching a private jazz club called Powerhouse Speakeasy last spring – which itself came shortly after the February 2021 opening of Nittolo’s Pizza and the May 2021 inception of Nittolo’s Seafood & Social – Nittolo is ready to introduce a fourth restaurant concept.
This one, simply called “The Social,” will feature a menu of authentic Spanish tapas and wine, offered in a cozy wine lounge setting.
A 2007 graduate of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute at Northwestern Michigan College, Nittolo worked in the kitchens of numerous establishments in and around Traverse City, including The Boathouse on Old Mission Peninsula, Reflect Bistro at Cambria Suites Hotel, and LochenHeath Golf Club.
In 2017, after returning to Traverse City from a three-year spell working in Virginia, Nittolo circled the idea of opening a restaurant – also called Nittolo’s Seafood & Social – on Union Street in downtown Traverse City. That version of the restaurant never materialized, but Nittolo found a home for his authentic Italian cooking in Lake Leelanau.
Lake Leelanau also provided one big benefit over Traverse City: Where downtown TC space is scarce, often small, and always priced at a premium, Nittolo was able to secure what he calls “a whale of a building” in Lake Leelanau. That building, the former home of Bella Fortuna restaurant, boasts 7,000 square feet of space.
All that extra room has given Nittolo the freedom to expand and explore new culinary ideas without having to invest in separate spaces. All three existing Nittolo’s restaurant concepts – the pizzeria, the seafood restaurant, and the speakeasy – currently operate at the 104 Main St. address, and come May, Nittolo will add a fourth.
The Social will feature a menu of tapas, or Spanish small plates, and will occupy the same bar space that is used on Friday and Saturday evenings for Powerhouse Speakeasy.
“We have this vacant room for most of the week with this beautiful bar in it that sits empty Sunday through Thursday,” he said. “So we thought, ‘Let’s open that space as a Spanish tapas and wine lounge, and we’ll run it Sunday through Thursday, and we’ll be open from 7-11pm.’”
The space will then morph back into the speakeasy on Friday and Saturday nights.
Nittolo’s goal is to deliver something that doesn’t exist elsewhere in northern Michigan’s restaurant scene. To that end, he’s planning to take a research trip to Spain in March to get a better handle on the art of authentic Spanish cooking.
Based on what he learns from the trip, Nittolo’s plan is to craft a 12-item tapas menu with each item priced in the $6-$8 range. That approach and pricing model will encourage diners to order a variety of small plates to try or share. In addition to the Spanish appetizers, The Social will feature 12 Spanish wines available on tap via a new cuvée wine system.
Beyond The Social and his other existing restaurant concepts, Nittolo also isn’t ruling out future growth or additional restaurant concepts at the 104 Main St. building. He says he has an entire dining room in the building that goes largely unused in the summertime, thanks to the restaurant’s substantial outdoor seating capacity.
“Our outdoor seating will be 176 people next year,” he noted. “And so that big dining room, unless it’s inclement weather or 90 degree outside … sits vacant in the summer.”
News broke last spring that Cherry Republic was planning to buy the building and relocate its downtown Traverse City operations there. The move kicked off a domino effect of changes that will continue to reverberate throughout the New Year.
Moving to the Arcade was attractive to Cherry Republic because it offered the business a chance to co-own its own building. While Cherry Republic has had a presence in downtown TC since 2007, the company leases its current 10,000-square-foot premises at 154 E. Front St. and has never owned downtown real estate.
Through a deal with Arcade owner Terry Beia, Cherry Republic will take 50 percent ownership of the Arcade, with Beia retaining the other half. Speaking to TCBN sister publication The Ticker in May 2022, Cherry Republic owner Bob Sutherland said the business was “excited to be able to fully express our brand in a permanent space, and where our investment turns into equity, as we have done in Glen Arbor.”
Under the deal, Cherry Republic took over approximately 14,000 of the Arcade’s 16,000 square feet, with plans to renovate the building in time for a spring 2023 move. While Sutherland did not return a request for an update, a real estate listing for the 154 E. Front space notes that the company’s lease expires at the end of March, and covered-up windows at The Arcade suggest that renovations are underway.
Two big questions are what the revitalized Arcade building will look like when Cherry Republic takes up residence, and what will happen to the sprawling 154 E Front St. space. Between those two buildings, the face of downtown could look significantly different at the end of 2023.
Also worth watching is where former Arcade tenants go. While The Flying Noodle has a lease with options through 2030 on some of the Arcade space, most of the businesses that previously called the building home – including Art & Soul Gallery, 2nd Level Goods, Studio Anatomy, Bayfront Scooters, Yellow Umbrella Vintage, and Black Candle Tattoo – had to move out by September 7.
Several of those businesses have already landed at new locations. Bayfront Scooters moved to the Civic Center, for instance, while 2nd Level Goods opened a new location at 2751 N US-31 South, next door to Red Lobster.
Perhaps the biggest question mark on the relocation front, though, is Studio Anatomy, which has yet to resurface. That business – which included a recording studio, a music venue, art studio workspaces, and a vinyl record shop – occupied the basement of The Arcade for 10 years. Brian Chamberlain, who owns Studio Anatomy, told The Ticker in May he was considering several options for his business’s new digs, including a space at Cherryland Center.
Speaking to the TCBN in December, Chamberlain said that “things are just starting to come together” for Studio Anatomy – though he noted that finding a big enough space to host all of the business’s functions has proved challenging. He recently leased space for Eugene’s Record Co-op at 1036 Barlow St., across the street from the Sail Inn. Chamberlain plans to incorporate “a couple art studio work spaces” into the building as well. Renovations are underway to get the store ready for a targeted February 1 opening date.
Meanwhile, Chamberlain says he remains on the hunt for a larger, separate building to accommodate the recording studio and performance venue of Studio Anatomy and is eyeing the former 4Front Credit Union training center building on Hastings Street, and possibly the old Younkers or remaining space next to the Curling Club at Cherryland.
This past summer, Chamberlain says the group “fell short” on its “Save the Studio” fundraising campaign to establish a spot at Cherryland, but he’s confident he will be able to continue Studio Anatomy in a new location in 2023.
The brewery component will be a new feature of the Studio Anatomy model, as Chamberlain said he is “working in tandem with a local brewery on the new performance venue to determine how much space we need and the right location in town.”
Chamberlain is hopeful that he will be able to have Studio Anatomy up and running at least partially by July of 2023, and the entire operation running by the end of 2023.
2022 was a big year for Grow Benzie, the self-described rural prosperity incubator that works to assist “good people who have good ideas to have an impact for children, families, and communities in Benzie County.”
In November, Grow Benzie was honored at the Governor’s Service Awards. The organization was named as a recipient of the 2022 Community Impact Award, being praised for its role as a partner and anchor for dozens of clubs, nonprofits and collaborative bodies in northern Michigan.
While Grow Benzie has been around since 2008, Executive Director Josh Stoltz says he thinks the organization is just hitting its stride. The organization was initially envisioned as a community center of sorts – an epicenter to offer event space, a commercial incubator kitchen, a community garden, and other services and amenities.
When Stoltz came aboard in 2015, he says he felt the space – which encompasses four acres and multiple buildings – was underutilized, and that Grow Benzie as a whole wasn’t having a big enough impact or bringing in enough funds to be sustainable.
Then, almost by accident, Stoltz stumbled upon a new path forward by coalescing various local groups with needs like Days for Girls, which makes reusable feminine hygiene kits for overseas girls.
“We already had a sewing studio, so we offered them that space, and I also said ‘I can help you recruit volunteers,’” he said.
With a potluck and some promotions, 30 volunteers showed up. Stoltz and his group continue to help with promotions and procuring fabric for the kits.
“Now they have over 60 people, they’ve made thousands of these kits, and they’ve sent them to 10 different countries around the world,” he said. “They have even developed to the point where they can pay us to rent that sewing studio space.”
That model – of partnering with existing organizations and serving as a booster to help them grow – became the raison d’être. Fast forward a few years and Stoltz said the organization has been able to take the success and impact it had with Days for Girls and “times that by 20.” He expects to see that impact continue to grow exponentially in the year and years to come, thanks in part to a brand-new strategic plan.
The new plan, which Stoltz said was finally completed in November, is helping the organization to transition into a more formal service entity, helping to push local organizations out of their silos and the county toward a more collaborative mindset.
“Transitioning into 2023, we’re formalizing three pillars of our organization as a rural prosperity incubator, and that will be offering services for three different groups,” he said. “Number one would be nonprofits and projects; number two would be community initiatives and networks; and number three would be providing space and support for food entrepreneurs.”
Stoltz thinks turning Grow Benzie into more of a service-oriented organization will help make foundational things – like encouraging local donations or seeking out grant funding – easier. In turn, he’s hopeful that more buzz and financial support will enable Grow Benzie to expand its reach and impact exponentially, beginning in 2023.
“Our former model was useful, because we were connecting a lot of people with a lot of things, but it’s real hard to ask for money (with that approach),” he explained. “Coming into 2023 with an updated mission and vision, we’re in a much better position to tell our story.”
To read the rest of What to Watch 2023 (listed below), please see our January issue on newsstands: