Traverse City News and Events

Elmwood Township’s Big Year: Marina, Hotel, Discovery Pier Projects Moving Forward

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 9, 2019

Several multi-million dollar projects are set to move forward in Elmwood Township this year, including a long-planned redevelopment of Elmwood Township Marina, a new private marina and hotel on M-22, and the first major phase of improvements at the Rotary-owned Discovery Pier.

Township trustees Monday will vote to approve a site plan and building drawings for phases one and two of the Elmwood Township Marina renovation project, allowing the project to go out to bid this spring and construction to start in May. Phase one of the project calls for the construction of a new harbormaster building with public restrooms and storage, a new public fish-cleaning station, and improvements to the parking lot entrance and exit at the M-22 facility. Phase two will include completely repaving the parking lot and changing the traffic flow configuration at the marina. Construction on both phases is intended to occur simultaneously and will likely take until the end of the year to complete, according to Township Planner and Zoning Administrator Sara Kopriva.

“It should only cause very minor disruptions (for marina users),” Kopriva says. “It’ll still be open for (boat) launching, and people will still be able to use the slips. We are also not going to have any work being done over the Cherry Festival or Fourth of July.”

Estimates in 2016 put the project total at roughly $2 million: $1.4 million for phase one and just over $600,000 for phase two. Elmwood Township has received nearly $950,000 in grant funding from the state Waterways Program for the project, and another $100,000 from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust for the fish-cleaning station. Elmwood Township will provide matching funds – which are already budgeted – for those grants to reach the project total, with numbers finalized once bids come in this spring. The third and final phase of the marina project – the construction of a new boater’s building with shower/restroom facilities and lounge, a potential concessions stand, and numerous landscaping and park upgrades – is estimated to cost $2.3 million and could break ground in 2021 if grant funding is secured, Kopriva says.

Just down the road, developers are expected to break ground on a new private marina and hotel this year. Developer and investor Pat Johnson – one of the partners on the project, planned for the former Scuba North property and a 300-foot waterfront parcel across the road – tells The Ticker the group is targeting a June opening for the marina. Plans call for constructing 28 new boat slips on the waterfront property, adding to 12 existing slips for a total 40-slip private facility called West Shore Marina.

Johnson will seek approval from township planning commissioners Tuesday to temporarily locate parking for the marina in a lot behind Dockside Party Store, with permanent parking eventually planned as part of the hotel project next door. “Everything is really progressing now,” he says. “We have Corps (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and DEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) approval, so the parking is the last thing.” Johnson says the group has a green light from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to install a concrete pedestrian island in the middle of M-22 that will help marina users cross the busy road. A temporary version of such a crossing has already been deployed at nearby Discovery Pier. “Everything went perfectly with testing that…(MDOT) told us we are approved to use the same crossing at our site, but to build it in a permanent manner,” Johnson says.

While the development group’s permits for a planned neighboring 115-room hotel have expired, halting work on the project, Johnson says the delay is only temporary. Previous plans for the “condotel” called for the construction of all two-bedroom, two-bathroom suites with kitchen and laundry facilities. “Almost all of the units were exactly the same…we wanted to modify the plans to give it better variety,” Johnson says. “We’re thinking about some one-bedroom units, and also some larger four-bedroom suites. I think (the new plans) will be a vast improvement from what we had previously.”

Johnson says he hopes to finalize the new hotel configuration in the next 60 days, go back for township approval on the updated plans this spring, and break ground mid-summer. “We’d like to be open in the spring of 2020,” he says.

In the same vicinity, Rotary Camps & Services aims to begin work this fall on the first $2.5 million phase of a planned total $9 million project to overhaul Discovery Pier, the former Traverse City Light & Power coal dock property. Rotary recently received $2 million in state funding for the project and will work to raise another $500,000 for phase one, which calls for dredging the harbor, building a floating dock system, and installing a wave attenuator to protect against sedimentation build-up.  The group is also seeking township approval to install an ADA-compliant boat lift/kayak launch at the pier. “We really want people to use that site and enjoy the docks and ships, making it wheelchair-friendly and open for folks that have reduced mobility,” says Rotary Executive Director Becky Ewing.

Future pier plans call for building a permanent tent event structure with an iconic design – what could become a “mini Sydney Opera house” in Traverse City, Ewing says – with seating, restrooms, and a kitchen facility. Rotary is also interested in using the pier, which has the region’s only deep-water port, as an offload point for cruise ships that visit Grand Traverse Bay. The group is in talks now with potential partners about creating shore excursion packages for cruise lines. The pier could also offer public water taxi service to Power Island, pier fishing access, and charter fishing excursions, in addition to docking the many tall ship and sailing organizations that are part of the overall Discovery Center Great Lakes complex.

Ewing also hints that big plans could be in store for the land-based section of the complex across the road on M-22. Rotary recently formed a new Discovery Center Great Lakes board tasked with creating a plan for the entire property; community members ranging from attorneys to event planners sit next to Rotarians on the board, the only time Rotary board seats have been open to the public since the organization ran the Park Place Hotel in the early 1990s. Rotary recently purchased the nearby Family Video property and is creating a shared workspace in that building for up to 24 individuals as an “environmental collaborative,” Ewing says. That building and a former coal storage lot could eventually allow private businesses to mix with nonprofits at the Discovery Center site. “We’re taking a fresh look at the whole property…which could include bringing in research or university institutions, government entities, and public and private groups to create this amazing freshwater hub,” Ewing says.

Pictured: Conceptual drawing of planned Discovery Pier improvements. Photo credit: Discovery Center Great Lakes.

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