Traverse City News and Events

DDA Talks Cruise Ships, Scooters, District Boundaries, River Clean-Up

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 24, 2020

Plans by Viking Cruises to introduce a new Great Lakes tour that would make cruise stops in Traverse City starting in 2022 prompted animated debate among Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members Friday, with Mayor Jim Carruthers expressing frustration about a lack of community input on the proposal.

Viking’s website is already taking reservations and advertising Traverse City as a shore excursion stop on the new cruise line, with available outings including Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pyramid Point hikes, Leelanau wine tastings, and Traverse City foodie excursions. Cruises start at nearly $6,000 and are offered at least twice a month through the summer 2022 season. The cruise ships would disembark at the Discovery Center Pier in Greilickville, one of the only deep-water ports in the region.

Carruthers said the announcement caught him and other community leaders off guard and questioned why there hadn’t been more public input on the proposal. At least one of the cruise ships is expected to stop during the National Cherry Festival, with Carruthers questioning how Traverse City would handle an influx of several hundred more visitors during that time. With local restaurants and retail shops already bustling during peak tourism season, Carruthers said the economic benefits of extra visitors seemed negligible and wondered how large disembarking groups would affect M-22 traffic as they tried to make their way from the pier to other local stops.

“Is Elmwood prepared for this? Is M-22 prepared for this?” Carruthers asked. “My concern is are we ready for this, do we want this, should we have this? We haven’t talked about this as a community, and I think we need to do that.”

Other community leaders have also voiced concerns. In a letter to Discovery Center CEO Matt McDonough – read by Carruthers at the DDA meeting – Traverse Connect President and CEO Warren Call said he did not see “significant economic benefit” coming to his members from cruise ship visits. “There does not appear to be a compelling commercial, retail or hospitality business case for encouraging these visits,” he wrote. Call continued that his organization had “some concern with cruise ship visits, especially in the amount of traffic and passengers (seeming) to overload the community in an already busy tourist period.” Call also questioned the environmental impact of cruise ships – a concern that has prompted tourist destinations elsewhere to enact tighter regulations on ship visits.

DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said she and several other community leaders have been invited to attend a private meeting February 28 convened by Discovery Center to talk through the proposal. She said despite Viking’s website advertising, Discovery Center had not yet made any commitments to the cruise ship line about using its port. Final authority over that decision will ultimately rest with Discovery Center, she said – not the DDA, city, or any other local governing body.

“There’s nothing we can vote on,” she said. “We’re not voting on anything. That is a Discovery Pier decision. They have opened it up for discussion…I’m grateful to have a seat at the table.” Derenzy said she would bring an update to board members about the outcome of the meeting at the DDA’s March 20 board meeting.

Also at Friday’s meeting…
> DDA board members approved new expanded boundaries for the downtown district, widening its lines to go down Lake Avenue to include Oryana Community Co-op, extending down Eighth Street to Barlow, and including portions of Woodmere Avenue to the Traverse Area District Library. The DDA board previously approved a district expansion, but revisited the plan after city commissioners asked the DDA to provide more detailed notice to property owners about it. While the boundary extensions are only geographic – neither of the DDA’s tax increment financing (TIF) plans will be extended into the new district – property owners included in the new boundaries will pay the DDA’s 2.0 mills tax. DDA board member and realtor Scott Hardy said property owners should see increasing values on their sites as part of being in the DDA.

“There’s been a huge surge in interest in the corridor from the commercial market,” Hardy said, factors he attributed both to the recent reconstruction of Eighth Street and news that the corridor could soon be an official part of downtown. “The outcomes…for that corridor are starting to see very positive improvement.”

Derenzy told board members a mailing was sent to every affected property owner in the new boundary zone, and multiple public open houses held to gather input. The redrawn boundary lines exclude several single-family homes on Washington Street, and also exclude Safe Harbor, Habitat for Humanity, and HomeStretch, since those projects have tax breaks associated with them for affordable and/or emergency housing. The Governmental Center and Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) buildings, meanwhile, are included in the new boundaries; that was intentional to allow for future redevelopment of the Governmental Center parking lot and TCAPS building, Derenzy said. The proposal now heads to city commissioners for final approval.

> DDA staff are working to finalize a new ordinance that would regulate e-scooter rentals and bike-share programs downtown. “The ordinance would talk about a lot of the specifics of how e-scooters are allowed in the downtown: location, speed, safety, all the kind of things that this group had identified last summer that was an issue should be addressed in this ordinance,” said DDA COO Harry Burkholder. The ordinance could also include a licensing fee for commercial vendors, said Burkholder, adding that staff hope to have the ordinance ready for DDA and city commission approval by June.

> Finally, the DDA has received a $400,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE) to complete environmental clean-up work on property at 401 East Front Street (formerly the home of Cornwell Architects). The site, which is right next to the Boardman River, is planned for a future mixed-use development but has “historical environmental issues on the property,” according to Derenzy. As part of a public-private partnership, the DDA successfully applied to EGLE for a grant for clean-up activities and demolition and asbestos abatement at the site, which Derenzy said would help protect the river. “If we can do anything to help with environmental clean-up, we should be proactive on trying to get resources to do that clean-up,” Derenzy said.

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