What Future For Lake Avenue?
By Ross Boissoneau | July 27, 2020
Is downtown Traverse City’s Lake Avenue a candidate for a more pedestrian-friendly street, the next corridor with huge redevelopment potential, or just a handy neighborhood shortcut for commuters?
With the north end anchored by the likes of Thirlby Automotive, Patisserie Amie, Rare Bird Brewery and The Parlor, and the south side home to the historic McGoughs, Oryana, a connection to the Boardman Lake Trail, and a quiet neighborhood -- Lake certainly generates lots of opinions.
“People use stretches to avoid the stoplight at Eighth and Cass,” says Lindsey Lampton, manager at McGough’s. She witnesses many vehicles zooming past at high speeds, and would welcome improvements that would lead to traffic calming.
Traverse City Planning Director Russ Soyring says there have been a number of plans presented for the street and surrounding area over the years. Some have included mixed use developments, while others included a roadway along the shore of Boardman Lake. “There was going to be a new north-south road to reduce some of the (traffic) on Cass and Union,” he says.
That option was eventually taken off the table. Soyring notes that the routing of the Boardman Lake Trail makes such a road unfeasible in the future, and the trail provides other possibilities for those looking for non-motorized ways to traverse the area.
For Julie Clark, the opportunity to utilize the trail system makes perfect sense. “It makes more seamless connections,” says the executive director of TART Trails. “It’s more intuitive.”
Steve Nance, general manager at Oryana, likewise says the presence of the trailhead just outside his door provides for easy access to and from to the health food store and connections to other nearby businesses, such as those on Eighth Street and Woodmere. “You can jump on the trail and go across town,” he says, pointing to the three bike shops on Eighth and the Traverse Area District Library on Woodmere.
He believes creating a neighborhood feel that maximizes use by those living there and those visiting businesses or residents would benefit everyone. “In the future, the end of Tenth Street could be a pocket park that feeds into the trail.”
That sentiment is shared by Jean Derenzy, the CEO of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority. She says the success of the reimagining of Eighth Street offers lessons on how to integrate the various needs in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing and gives people reasons to go there rather than just through there. “You need more effective connections between businesses and residences. It’s walkability – sidewalks, trees, a neighborhood feel,” she says.
“It’s a balance – getting from A to B, the expectations of residents. What does a city have to offer – can you park once and walk, and what are the experiences as you walk?”
Clark says she believes plans that improve walkability and aesthetics don’t preclude serving automobile traffic as well. “It’s not at the expense of driving. Maybe you add 30 seconds to a minute for commuters. You strike a compromise.”
Lampton says one potential plan she definitely would be against is closing off Lake Avenue just north of McGough’s at Eighth Street, which would make it more difficult for her customers to come and go. McGough’s, which sells a variety of lawn and gardening supplies, pet and livestock food and related products, has been around long enough to see the area go through some dramatic changes. “We have records dating back to 1890,” said Lampton.
Lampton notes patrons of McGough’s drive there as they are typically purchasing products or quantities that are impossible to transport on foot or bicycle. She nevertheless would be in favor of improvements that would enhance walkability, noting that sidewalks and improved lighting would enhance the area’s overall appeal. “Those aesthetics would make a big difference.”
Nance says the area has already seen upgrades; since the health food store moved to its location at Tenth and Lake in the 1990s, numerous housing options have sprung up. “When Oryana came to this location (on Tenth and Lake), we had to clean needles out of the rail cars. It wasn’t pleasant.”
One challenge to any planned improvements is the fact that rather than heading directly north-south, Lake Avenue meanders from its inception off Union to its terminus where it runs into and becomes Twelfth Street. Along the way it acts almost as a continuation of Sixth and Seventh Streets before crossing Eighth Street and becoming a north-south corridor as it passes McGough’s and a warehouse owned by Thirlby Automotive, then skirting Oryana before again continuing south to Cone Drive.
Could Lake Avenue’s future include removing, renovating or even selling some of the older buildings, such as McGough’s or Thrlby’s white block warehouse just north of Oryana? Though some have advocated redevelopment of those areas, it’s not likely anytime soon. Thirlby’s didn’t respond to inquiries, while Lampton wasn’t exactly bullish on the thought of selling McGough’s. “I wouldn’t rule it out, but it wouldn’t be something I was actually looking to do,” she says.
For his part, Soyring believes there is room for future growth while preserving historic buildings and a neighborhood feel. “If you look at an aerial (shot), there are a lot of spaces for potential new development,” he says, pointing for example to the east side of McGough’s.
He also says that whatever the final outcome is, he sees the significance of businesses such as McGough’s, the Parlor and Rare Bird as more than simply valuable sites of commerce. “They are some of the original wooden buildings of Traverse City,” he says. Over the decades, fires and redevelopment have resulted in many of the city’s landmark facilities disappearing. “I’d hate to lose those original buildings.”