Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners To Talk EDO Contract, Trees, Ironman

By Beth Milligan | Oct. 14, 2019

Traverse City commissioners will discuss next steps on several key projects at their 7pm study session tonight (Monday), including entering into a contract with Traverse Connect to pay for economic development services, moving forward with a proposed citywide tree ordinance, developing plans for the 2020 Ironman 70.3 event, and supporting a pilot program that will allow city workers to bring their newborn children to work.
 
Traverse Connect CEO Warren Call will join City Manager Marty Colburn tonight in presenting commissioners with a proposal to have the city help fund economic development initiatives over the next three years. Traverse Connect – parent company of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North – is planning a major internal restructuring to launch an economic development organization (EDO) aimed at aggressively recruiting businesses and talent to northern Michigan. That transformation will require a $1 million increase to Traverse Connect's budget, which is expected to come from program and event revenue in addition to contributions from private and public partners, including the city.
 
The proposed agreement calls for Traverse City to pay Traverse Connect $50,000 per year over a three-year period to support economic development work, including developing a centralized data dashboard and website and conducting annual visits to businesses within the city limits to identify employer needs and barriers to growth. Other services will include marketing Traverse City to prospective companies, promoting city property that is available for redevelopment, working to address the wage/cost-of-living gap, and partnering with education and training providers to bolster the local workforce. Traverse Connect will provide an annual report to the city on all of its activities and outcomes, according to the contract terms.
 
In a memo to commissioners, Colburn noted that Traverse Connect's “primary focus will be to recruit and retain business, industry, and talent.” But as a “secondary aspect of the arrangement, Traverse Connect would assist with (serving) as a champion for housing and childcare issues.” Colburn also noted that when city officials previously considered establishing their own in-house economic development department, the anticipated costs of that program were $150,000 annually – three times the cost of the proposed contract with Traverse Connect.
 
City commissioners tonight will also have a final chance to provide input on a proposed citywide tree ordinance before it returns to them on October 21 for formal action. The ordinance, which has undergone multiple revisions over the past year, evolved as a response to increasing development pressure on the city’s tree canopy. The latest iteration – which was unanimously approved by planning commissioners at their October 1 meeting – aims in particular to preserve large, healthy, native trees and those by bodies of water, as well as protecting the overall number of trees in the city.
 
The ordinance sets minimum tree canopy requirements for properties in city limits – which range as low as 10 percent in downtown to as high as 50 percent in rural residential areas – with the canopy minimum enforced anytime new construction or expansion takes place. Owners who can’t meet the minimum can pay instead into a city tree planting fund. Other changes require at least 50 percent of tree plantings to be species native to Michigan and healthy trees within water setbacks to be preserved. The policy provides exception for Cherry Capital Airport, noting that “compliance is not required for trees which are removed for an aeronautical use,” and that “planting of trees that will grow above the height limits established in the airspace of Cherry Capital Airport…or (that) creates hazards to aviation shall be prohibited.”
 
Commissioners will also review a summary tonight from City Clerk Benjamin Marentette about this year’s inaugural Ironman 70.3 event, as well as possible changes and improvements that could be made for the sold-out 2020 race. Marentette says he received feedback from nearly 1,200 members of the public through a city survey about the event and participated in formal debriefs with organizers World Triathlon Corporation and Traverse City Tourism, along with other partners. “While debriefs naturally tend to focus on improvements that can be made in the future, I want to express my professional support for how well the event was conducted overall,” says Marentette. “The greater Traverse City region played host to athletes from near and far, and because of a lot of advance thought, partnerships, and dedication, everything went quite well.”
 
Marentette says key areas of focus for improvement in 2020 will include communication – including widely publishing alternative traffic routes – and addressing traffic flow in Leelanau County. “The most frequent concern raised was the impact of the bicycle race on Leelanau County and how the route made it difficult for vehicular traffic to move through the county,” says Marentette. “Clearly, the route needs to be more closely analyzed to minimize future impacts.” Organizers also plan to focus on stricter adherence to posted time limits for street closures, improving waste management, and analyzing the event impact on businesses on Front Street, some of which reported stronger sales and others of which experienced a downturn. Marenetette says organizers could consider relocating the finish line to “minimize negative impacts and maximize the excitement of the event for spectators.”
 
Finally, commissioners tonight will be officially briefed on a pilot program launched by Colburn to allow certain employees to “bring their infants to work with them up to the point where the infant can crawl.” As previously reported by The Ticker, employees like Human Resources Specialist Christina Woods have been participating in the program, which went into effect August 16 and attempts to address a need for child care as the city explores the possibility of starting an on-site daycare. The policy allowed Woods to return to work after six weeks, even though she was entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave. Participating employees are not allowed to leave the building without their child or take the child in a city-owned or leased vehicle, and must designate two other city employees as alternative care providers for the child for when participants are in meetings or otherwise occupied.

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