Stalled Construction Projects See New Signs Of Life
By Craig Manning | Oct. 10, 2021
Will long-stalled hotel developments in East Bay Charter Township ever move forward? Why did Milliken Street shut down for road work this week, after construction already closed the street several days this summer? What’s the plan for the parking lot at West End Beach, which has become a seemingly permanent home to multiple barriers and orange barrels? These are just a few of the construction-related question marks in and around Traverse City at the moment. The Ticker tracks down the answers.
East Bay Hotels
In March 2018, The Ticker broke the news that a pair of developers were planning to build a trio of new hotels along US-31 in East Bay Township. Two of the hotels, as well as a brand-new restaurant/retail space, were planned for the old site of Pebble Brook Adventure Park, the other for a parcel farther west, between the Hampton Inn and the Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park Campground.
More than three-and-a-half years later, both lots are vacant, but some action at one of the sites could come next spring. According to Claire Karner, East Bay Township’s director of planning and zoning, the Ann Arbor-based developer of the project next to Hopscotch contacted the township this week to restart conversations about the development.
“Their site plan expired,” Karner says of the developer – formerly known as Stellar Hospitality, now called Premier Hospitality. “So we emailed them and told them, ‘You need to come back to the township if you want to move forward with this development.’ We actually didn't hear from them until [Wednesday], but they got in touch with us and said that they wanted to reapply for site plan review.”
That exchange ends a lengthy radio silence between East Bay Township and Premier Hospitality. In past conversations with The Ticker, Karner had indicated that no one at the township was sure where things stood with the project.
Less than 24 hours after touching base with Karner, The Ticker received a message from Premier Hospitality Vice President Jonathan Azer offering an update. Azer says the plans for the development are still largely the same as in March 2018. One hotel will be a Residence Inn by Marriott with six stories and 123 rooms; the other will be a Staybridge Suites by IHG with six stories and 122 rooms. The property will also include an 8,692-square-foot restaurant/retail space with five units, including one with a drive-thru.
“We were ready to break ground and financing was available,” Azer says of the development. “Then COVID hit. Obviously, the hospitality industry suffered greatly. We kept our hotels open, but it was very, very hard to stay alive. And we did survive, but the financing landscape was just not available [to start new projects], and it still is a little tough. But things are opening up, business is picking up – slowly but surely – and there's some markets that have just done phenomenal business. I really think Traverse City is one of them.”
Premier Hospitality is now “planning for shovels to hit the ground early spring of 2022.” Azer expects the full project will take about 24 months to complete, but says the work will be phased so that one hotel can be finished and opened before construction proceeds on the other.
Premier Hospitality currently has hotels or upcoming developments in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Okemos. This project will mark the company’s first foray into Traverse City.
As for the property between Hampton Inn and the State Park, plans for a hotel there fizzled after the developer behind the project passed away. The property has been listed for sale with a price tag of $3.5 million since October 2020. Karner says the township has “spoken with some developers, some potential applicants” that have eyed the property for potential projects, “but we haven’t gotten anything formal submitted to the township.”
Karner does confirm that things are moving forward for a fourth hotel project in the township: The 92-unit Avid hotel planned for the former Wendy’s property on US-31. “That project was approved by a site plan review by the planning commission,” she says.
Milliken Avenue Closure
In August, Milliken Street was closed for four days while contractors for DTE Energy worked to replace outdated gas lines in the area. While the road reopened after the initial closure of August 9-12, the work was visibly incomplete. Work recommenced on the project this week, with the road once again closed to both lanes of traffic near the Eastern Avenue intersection.
According to John McWethy, public services assistant for the City of Traverse City, the work is once again “being completed by a contractor working for DTE” and is the completion of the same project that shut the road down in August.
“The work started earlier this summer and came to a halt because they could not get the appropriate materials for completion,” McWethy says. “I was notified by the contractor that they intend to have the road open back up by October 22.”
West End Beach
Erosion at West End Beach, a product of high water levels in Grand Traverse Bay over the past several years, has caused parts of the beach’s parking lot to crumble. While the city has placed multiple barriers and orange barrels in the lot, though – eliminating some parking spots and cautioning visitors about the unstable pavement – some locals have wondered what the long-term plan for the city park might be.
According to Mitchell Treadwell, a member of the City of Traverse City Parks and Recreation Commission, the commission’s discussions about the crumbling West End Beach parking lot date back to August 2019.
“At that time, it was decided that the installation of limestone boulders would be an appropriate temporary solution to slow or halt the rate of further erosion,” Treadwell says. “Since then, no additional parking spaces have been lost. However, West End Beach is one of the parks slated for renovations and improvements through voter-approved allocations from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund. While those improvements primarily focus on replacing – and potentially relocating – the bathroom building, other aspects of the park, including the parking lot and access drive, could be reconfigured as well. As such, there are no plans to rebuild the parking lot in its current layout in the near future, especially since there is ample parking at a city park right across Grandview Parkway.”
Treadwell says “proposed redesigns” of the parking lot would likely reduce the parking area anyway. The redesigned parking would be mostly “handicapped-designated or temporary pull-through spots,” with the city encouraging most users of the beach to park across the street instead. The thought, Treadwell notes, is that turning the parking lot into more of a drop-off zone could help make the park “more resilient against future high water levels.”
“Even at 'full capacity,’ West End Beach only had 25 parking spaces, which is inadequate for as many people as use that park through much of the summer,” Treadwell tells The Ticker.
One local construction project that will be crossing the finish line soon? The new Green Mitt car wash on US-31 in East Bay Township. The business has announced that it will host its public grand opening on October 25, and that it will be giving away free car washes the week of October 25-29. Hours of operation will be 7am to 9pm, seven days a week.