Traverse City News and Events

Master Plan Approved For Civic Center; More Parks Projects Move Ahead

By Beth Milligan | Oct. 26, 2020

Grand Traverse County has a new master plan for the Civic Center that will guide development, construction, and programming at the 45-acre park – one of several regional park projects underway across northern Michigan.

Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation commissioners approved the new master plan this month after several months of public input, meetings, and discussions to winnow down two design concepts into a single cohesive long-term plan for the park. Consulting firm Beckett & Raeder lead the planning process, which will help the board prioritize improvements and raise funds for Civic Center projects through community campaigns and grant applications.

The new plan calls for highlighting the park’s Front Street frontage by building a new east-west promenade with pedestrian lighting and enlarged plazas with bench seating along the north end of the park. Developing landscaping buffers to screen views of the building service areas from Front Street is recommended, as is restoring the eastern frontage to a woodland setting and enhancing both the northeast and northwest entrances to the park.

Nearly 1,600 survey respondents and multiple Civic Center user groups weighed in on recreational programming suggestions that made it into the final plan, including adding another ice rink/multi-purpose facility, adding two pickleball courts, improving the basketball courts, reducing ballfields to six and adding automated-pay batting cages with six stalls, developing a street-side/plaza-style skate park, developing a picnic area near the south entrance with cooking facilities, and improving the perimeter walking loop (including making the loop universally accessible and adding benches, exercise stations, wayfinding signage, and a three-foot wide cinder running path).

Consolidating playground equipment, developing special needs and tot play areas, adding more benches and tables throughout the park, and creating a bicycle safety/skills/education center in the Civic Center’s southeast corner are also proposed in the master plan. Norte, a Civic Center tenant, expressed its support for the vision, saying in a social media post that the organization is “all in to help design, build, and maintain a world-class pump track and traffic garden in the old Kids Kove location in the southeast corner of the park.”

Beckett & Raeder also included several infrastructure recommendations. Those include separating the walking loop from the planned Front Street promenade “to increase safety,” and developing on-street parking on Titus and Fair streets. Pedestrian entry plazas are also planned to be added to Fair Street, with the southeast entrance enhanced and a north-south pedestrian path added running from Front Street to the ball fields with landscaping, pedestrian lighting, and banners or pennants to enhance sight lines. The master plan also calls for improving the Garfield Avenue entrance to a two-lane, two-way vehicular roadway with a separate 10-foot-wide non-motorized accessible path into the park.

According to Parks and Recreation Director Kristine Erickson, the master plan will help unify the different elements of the park – which attracts approximately one million visitors a year but has issues with signage, traffic flow, parking, aging infrastructure, and competing user needs – and guide decision-making going forward. With a master plan now approved, “Beckett and Raeder will give a final report and provide project costs next,” Erickson says – allowing the board to plan out timing for improvements based on cost and begin seeking grant funds and/or community donations for support.

In other park news…
> Several local parks have received state grant funding that will allow planned upgrades to move forward. In Traverse City, city commissioners last week approved providing two $50,000 matches for Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants awarded to the city for Hickory Hills and Indian Woods Park. The $100,000 total funding package for each park will pay for snowmaking upgrades at Hickory Hills and park renovations at Indian Woods, including new bike racks, benches, picnic tables, play equipment, safety surfacing, recycling and trash bins, and trail and landscaping improvements.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Derek Melville says that with funding agreements now in place, city staff can move forward with ironing out the construction details, with both projects likely to place in August/September 2021. Residents of the Indian Woods neighborhood will have a final opportunity to give input on the park design before construction occurs, Melville says.

Meanwhile, in East Bay Township, a $584,800 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant approved for the township to acquire and expand the Holiday Woodlands Preserve is being distributed, allowing planning to move forward for the park. The township plans to hire a consultant to work with trail user groups and develop a trail plan, with "heavy emphasis on public input," according to East Bay Township Parks and Recreation meeting minutes. The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is assisting the township with conducting due diligence on the site. East Bay Township plans to pursue additional grant funding in 2021 to help develop amenities on the property, which is located off Five Mile Road.

> After recently opening a new 230-acre nature preserve called Lower Woodcock Lake in Benzie County, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is preparing to acquire another site in the county between Platte and Little Platte lakes. Mount Minnie, as the property is called, sits on the isthmus between the two lakes and includes 1,567 feet of frontage on Little Platte Lake and six acres of diverse riparian wetlands. GTRLC has raised $1.1 million toward the property purchase, with $116,948 still to go; an anonymous donor is matching gifts dollar-for-dollar up to $300,000.

> Two parks-related proposals will appear on the ballot next Tuesday for local voters. All Michigan voters will be asked to weigh in on Proposal 1, which aims to: allow the State Parks Endowment Fund to continue receiving money from sales of oil and gas from state-owned lands to improve, maintain, and purchase land for state parks – and for fund administration – until its balance reaches $800 million; require subsequent oil and gas revenue from state-owned lands to go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund; require at least 20 percent of Endowment Fund annual spending go toward state park improvement; and equire at least 25 percent of Trust Fund annual spending go toward parks and public recreation areas and at least 25 percent toward land conservation. The proposal essentially allows for more flexibility in how funds are spent, including allowing more money to be spent on park amenities and not just land acquisition – a goal that has divided environmental groups. GTRLC has endorsed the proposal, among other conservancy groups, while the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club has opposed it.

In Traverse City and Garfield Township, voters will be asked to approve a joint millage request that would allow for continued operations at Historic Barns Park, Hickory Meadows, and the West Bay Waterfront. The millage would also fund 20 years of historic preservation of the Historic Barns Park and pay for the acquisition of a new property “to expand the public park area near Hickory Meadows.”

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