Traverse City News and Events

DDA To Talk Property Purchase, Riverwalk, Valet Service

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 20, 2018

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members Friday will consider purchasing property in downtown TC that will allow for a public educational center to be built along the Boardman River as part of an experimental fish passage project planned to be constructed at the Union Street Dam.

Board members, who meet at 8am Friday at the Governmental Center, will also discuss concerns from downtown residents about the planned expansion of the Boardman River riverwalk, and will consider pursuing a city ordinance that will allow a valet parking pilot tested this summer to become a permanent program.

Property Purchase
The DDA has the opportunity to purchase a valuable piece of downtown property well below market value – as long as the land is used specifically for a planned FishPass project at the Union Street Dam.

Board members will decide Friday whether to approve purchasing the Consumers Energy property next to Central United Methodist Church in the alley that runs between Union and Cass streets (pictured, fenced-in parcel). The value of the property is over $500,000, according to a November appraisal. However, Consumers Energy is willing to sell the land to the DDA at the reduced price of $120,000 as a “collaborative effort” to support the FishPass project, according to City Manager Marty Colburn.

“The acquisition of this property will act as a conduit for the scientific community, provide educational opportunities, and provide economic enhancements within the DDA, the city, and the region,” Colburn wrote to DDA CEO Jean Derenzy. He said the Consumers Energy property was the “ideal location” for a public educational center planned to accompany the FishPass system that will replace the deteriorating Union Street Dam.

The estimated $18-$22 million FishPass project – which is anticipated to be fully designed by the end of this year, with construction beginning as soon as 2019 – aims to provide groundbreaking scientific research on controlling invasive species by testing out various fish-sorting technologies. The project also calls for creating new landscaping elements, canoe and kayak portage options, and educational programming at the Union Street Dam site.

Derenzy tells The Ticker the majority of funding for the project is expected to come from grant sources such as the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has already committed nearly $2 million to the project. The Consumers Energy property purchase will therefore likely be the DDA’s most significant financial outlay for FishPass, she says. “We need that property in order to integrate all the design elements…to incorporate that educational component and to have the public restrooms on that side (of the river). It wouldn’t work as well on the other side,” Derenzy says.

Tax increment financing (TIF) 97 funds are available to pay for the property purchase, according to Derenzy. She noted in a memo to DDA board members that the DDA’s strategic plan emphasizes pursuing projects that highlight the Boardman River, and that TIF 97 funds are recommended to be spent on projects including bridge, river, and alley improvements – all of which Derenzy says would be accomplished through the property acquisition.

Residents of the Uptown development on Pine Street are hoping to have DDA board members address their concerns about a planned extension of the Boardman River riverwalk along their property.

The DDA is set to begin construction as soon as a pending Army Corps permit clears on the riverwalk project, which calls for extending the riverwalk from the South Union Street bridge to the boundary of Uptown and Riverview Terrace. As part of the project, the bridge’s deteriorating east stairwell will be reconstructed, and a barrier-free walkway built from the public parking lot behind the post office down to the river.

A letter from Uptown homeowners to the DDA states that while residents have been aware of the riverwalk’s looming construction and “all agree that the public should have suitable access to the river,” seeing the final detailed design plans raised several concerns among residents about the project. Those include safety concerns about having a potentially unlit and unmonitored riverwalk running directly next to their residential units. “…An unlit and unsupervised boardwalk (as it now appears in the planning) that runs along the Uptown homes would be a) out of sight to the general public, b) very isolated, c) dark, and d) a highly susceptible place for theft, alcohol drinking, trash accumulation, camping overnight on the boardwalk by the homeless, and occurrence of other inappropriate activities by the boardwalk users – at night especially,” the letter states.

Residents are asking DDA board members to join them for a site visit to the property to share their concerns in person. They are recommending installing a barrier on the north side of the new boardwalk in front of the Uptown units to prevent pedestrians from easily stepping off the riverwalk onto their private property. Homeowners are also asking for a “regular monitoring system” to be in place for the riverwalk, and to terminate the extension at the public stairway off of Pine Street rather than at a planned dead end around the river bend at the property line for Riverview Terrace.

Valet Program
A summer pilot program to test out a parking valet system in downtown Traverse City this summer was deemed successful by organizers, prompting Parking Administrator Nicole VanNess to recommend the DDA pursue amending the city’s ordinance to allow valet companies to operate downtown on a long-term basis.

The 11-week pilot was sponsored by the owners of Amical, Red Ginger, and Slate/Sorellina in partnership with At Your Service Valet to allow downtown visitors to valet park their cars in private parking spaces. User data shows the service was consistently utilized throughout the pilot period, VanNess says. “The only time the valet was not used was when the street or spaces were unavailable due to city-sanctioned events.”

A revised valet ordinance would allow the program to continue long-term and establish DDA fees and regulations for how loading zones, metered spaces, and right-of-ways would operate during valet service. Derenzy says the DDA will also address concerns that the valet program “not impede bike lanes” downtown while in operation.


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