Traverse City News and Events

Officials Eye TCAPS Parcel For Housing

Dec. 26, 2016

Officials looking for opportunities to bring more workforce housing to downtown Traverse City have set their sights on a long-vacant Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) parcel on Thirteenth Street.

The 1.8 acre plot is located at the corner of Thirteenth and Wadsworth streets across from the north entrance to the Thirlby Field stadium. TCAPS acquired the empty tract of land in 2001 in anticipation of future district growth.

“We purchased it thinking there was going to be a need someday with reconstruction at Glenn Loomis or expansion at Thirlby,” says TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma. “It was good to have in our inventory of properties for that reason. But we haven’t seen an educational use for it yet, and now there are other needs and opportunities within the community. So maybe it’s time to look at it again.”

TCAPS and Traverse City officials formed a joint committee in 2015 that meets quarterly to review potential collaborative opportunities. At their upcoming January meeting, committee members plan to discuss partnership models that could bring affordable or workforce housing to the Thirteenth Street property.

“We have to be careful, because we have a fiduciary responsibility to make money on the sale of that property,” says TCAPS board member Scott Hardy. “But we shouldn’t sail ahead (with selling the land) without looking at the goals and needs of the city. If we can help solve the (housing) problem and at the same time accrue revenue, that’s a win-win.”

Hardy says he’s spoken with local developers to get feedback on realistic market scenarios for the parcel based specifically on its development for housing. “The conversation we need to have from a business perspective is if we were to be a participant in a deal – not as a developer or in real estate, but if it paid us on the back end,” says Hardy. “We’d want to see how much we might accrue from that and balance that with the community good we’d be accomplishing, instead of selling it upfront and not having any control over (what develops there).”

Soma says TCAPS had a $400,000 offer on the property several years ago; the district went out for bids, with none surpassing that offer, and passed on the sale. He says the district wants to be “a good partner” with both the city and surrounding neighborhood, which is why he favors crafting a proposal for the land that meets a community need rather than simply auctioning it off to the highest bidder.

“We feel the responsibility to be a good neighbor and consider the wishes of the neighborhood, and not just enter into some kind of corporate development agreement or sell it to someone who’s not going to be a good fit (for that area),” Soma says.

Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers, who lives less than two blocks from the property, says neighbors have expressed support to him for bringing housing to the site. He envisions townhouse-style homes on the lot that blend into the surrounding neighborhood aesthetic rather than a large apartment complex.

“We’d want to make sure everyone is on the same page, and hopefully TCAPS would go to the neighborhood (for feedback),” says Carruthers. “But otherwise, it could just be sold outright without any input from the neighbors." Carruthers says the city needs to start looking at areas including Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets, Garfield Avenue and Eighth Street to develop housing instead of "the most expensive" real estate downtown.

"We’re a long way from anything happening, but it’s available property in town," Carruthers says of TCAPS' parcel. "And we have limited real estate options in town. So let’s start exploring those."

While all of the partners emphasize that discussions are only conceptual at this point, representatives for both the city and TCAPS expressed enthusiasm about the potential to partner and bring housing to the site.

“We like the idea because as one of the largest employers in town, we have a lot of people in that $35,000 to $55,000 range, who teach in town or close to town,” says Hardy. “I’m assuming they’d want to avail themselves of workforce housing close to where they work. I think we could make something work where everybody makes some concessions, and we can provide housing on Thirteenth Street to employees of the city and downtown and TCAPS.”

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