Yacht Club redo makes headway; Apache gains seats, loses smoking

TRAVERSE CITY – When the Traverse City Yacht Club was destroyed by fire in April 2008, the group's members were stunned, but they vowed to carry on.

Now, less than a year later, the rebuilt facility is on schedule to open this spring, this time with some additional precautions to make sure there's no repeat of the conflagration that consumed it.

"The new building had to be up to code, including sprinklers," said Tom Cowell, past commodore of the club.

"They looked at the facility to see what the probable risks are," he continued. "They pointed out to us things like the wooden deck. One of the lessons is that a concrete patio won't burn."

The fire last year destroyed the building just a week before the annual new member event, the traditional Oyster Clam Bake. Work began immediately to plan a new facility, although it was necessary to wait months working through the necessary fire investigation, insurance negotiations, cleanup and planning, and the permitting process.

Cowell said the new building will have the same footprint as its predecessor, with approximately 6,000 square feet. The new layout makes better use of the interior space, which had evolved from the original factory structure.

"We found transactions dating from 1923 when the owners transferred part of lot three and the factory building," said Cowell, meaning the building itself dated from some time prior to that. The Yacht Club was started in 1960 by a group of boating and sailing enthusiasts, and the current property was acquired by the club in 1965, when the factory building was renovated into a clubhouse. In the early days of the Club, the facility was used mostly in the summer and closed up with boats stored inside for the winter. In recent years, the Club has stayed open during the winter for weekly social activities.

The new building will maintain the striking views of West Bay. Cowell said that the view is so enticing that during the summer last year, members would gather for the 4th of July and Cherry Festival fireworks or just stop by to have a lunch break and relax next to the water, even though the facility at that time was nothing more than a singed slab.

Inside, the new design will incorporate a dramatic elevated ceiling making for improved acoustics during Club events, while the new audio-visual features will make it an inviting environment for presentations like travelog programs and regatta videos. The d├ęcor will sport a nautical feel: the carpet will have a wave pattern and the serving area finishes will have the traditional teak and holly yacht look. Most striking will be a mezzanine overlooking the water outside and the gathering room on the inside.

Cowell said the goal is to have the construction finished in time for this year's Oyster Clam Bake, scheduled for early May.

"We were held up earlier by some zoning issues, and December and January's brutal weather held us back," Cowell said. "But we think that's a realistic schedule."

More seats, less smoke

Next door to the Yacht Club, the Apache Trout Grill has its own renovation plans. The owner has received a land-use permit to enclose the outdoor deck, which will nearly double the number of diners it can serve.

The restaurant opened in 1994, sporting bay views from the inside and a large deck for summertime serving. As the years have gone by, it has become apparent that while the exterior deck was a great feature during the warm months, the lack of seating during the rest of the year was a hindrance.

"On a Friday or Saturday, when we tell people it's a 20- or 30-minute wait, they leave," said Glen Harrington, the general manager.

Owner Mike Connors said as of press time they still have to secure building permits from Leelanau County, but he is confident things will move along quickly. "We hope to be done by Memorial Day," he said. "We have to remove the deck, then rebuild."

Connors said the construction is relatively simple, as there's no kitchen involved, just the building and then lighting and heating and cooling.

Harrington said they have already made one move to facilitate greater use by making the entire restaurant non-smoking as of Feb. 9.

"That will give us another 40 seats (in the lounge) where people can eat or wait."

Currently the restaurant seats approximately 50 people in its dining room. That number will be doubled when the deck is enclosed. Not only will that help during the busy nights, but also at lunchtime.

"The current space doesn't lend itself to being busy," Harrington said. "Someone who comes from downtown to have lunch can't risk an extra 10 or 15 minutes waiting for a table, or they'll be late to get back to work. Our lunchtime business has always suffered."

While the restaurant will lose the outdoor ambience of the deck, it will no longer be encumbered by inclement weather. And Connors promises the view, long one of the great drawing cards for Apache Trout Grill, will remain.

"We'll still have the glass doors to the water," he said.

Marina plan on hold

Another proposed project along M-22 in the Greilickville area appears to be on hold. According to Elmwood Township officials, the proposed redevelopment of 11 acres which formerly housed the Zephyr Oil Bulk Fuel Terminal has languished since the developer failed to secure financing. The ambitious plan called for a marina for large yachts, retail shops, even a film studio.

The project received the go-ahead from the township, but when the developer, Ron Walters of West Bay Partners, was unable to secure financing, he proposed a scaled-down version. Dave Noren, the zoning administrator for Elmwood Township, said Walters was told he would have to go through the entire approval process again as if it was a different project.

That was the last township officials have heard. Chris Grobbel, the Elmwood Planning Coordinator, said he hasn't heard from Walters in months. The Business News was unable to reach Walters for comment. BN