Traverse City News and Events

New Life for Defunct Coal Dock?

Jan. 10, 2014

The former Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P) coal dock off M-22 in Greilickville has been dormant for a decade. Now water-based collaborative Discovery Center Great Lakes is proposing a massive redevelopment for the waterfront parcel into a dynamic attraction and economic driver.

But one big discussion looms: Disposal of an asset – in this case, an extremely valuable one – that the city-owned utility no longer needs and the resulting benefit to city residents. The coal dock’s marina basin is currently used by the Tall Ship Manitou and the Maritime Heritage Alliance for some of its fleet, but the area is gated and closed to the public. The TCLP-owned utility has expressed an interest in getting rid of the property.

The Discovery Center Great Lakes consists of The Watershed Center, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum, the Maritime Heritage Alliance and Traverse Area Community Sailing. Three of the four nonprofits operate opposite the coal dock on land donated by Mike Dow to Rotary Camps & Services in 2006. The collaborative recently presented an ambitious plan to the TCL&P board of directors for a marina district – a project that will celebrate the water and give the public endless opportunities to enjoy it.

Among the proposed uses: a fishing pier, deep water port of call for cruise ships, a base for the Tall Ship fleet, local sailing teams and charter fishing boats, a maritime history education center and a water taxi to Power Island and Clinch Park. The multi-million and multi-phased proposal also includes improvements to the Children’s Museum and the Maritime Heritage Alliance.

In addition, an adjacent private marina would offer market rate slip rentals – and a revenue stream for the nonprofits. Short term, parking would be provided on a section of the coal dock itself, with long-term plans calling for a pedestrian bridge over M-22. The entire Discovery Center presentation to TCL&P can be viewed here (starting at the 16 minute mark and lasting 30 minutes).

“This would be a major waterfront attraction, giving people access to the water and boating in a variety of ways, and a major economic driver,” says Wills, a development consultant and chairman of the Discovery Center.

It also would come at no cost to taxpayers, Wills says, with funding coming from a fundraising campaign and bank loans.

While TCL&P owns the property and has the capability to facilitate such a plan, it does require support of the City to do so. To dispose of property it has to be declared “surplus” and the city has to agree.

Wills tells The Ticker that some pressure exists “out there” to convey the property to the City, viewing it as a valuable asset for which the City needs a return.

Profit is not the motive of Discovery Center project, Wills explains. “The community is the beneficiary in a million different ways,” he said. “This is a unique and key piece of property. The short-term land value pales in comparison to its long-term public use.”

“If the property is conveyed to the City, you do lose some of the options,” Wills adds.

Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes says this proposal has prompted a much larger discussion regarding the process for disposal of L&P property that best serves Traverse City residents.

A joint meeting between the utility and City Commission to address various issues facing TCL&P that are of interest to the public is planned for late January/early February.

“This is about how this type of request should occur and the long-term interests,” says Estes. “That’s where we have to start.”

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