Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Traverse City Michigan

Traverse City (click on the preceding two words or the picture to see the slideshow) is located in upper Michigan. For those of you who know the “mitt” example of Michigan, it is just above the pinkie finger. The Boardman River flows through it and it is on the edge of Great Traverse Bay, with rolling hills of wine country just to the north on the Old Mission Peninsula surrounded by the West Arm and East Arm of Traverse Bay.

The city is a tourist destination, with a multitude of water activities and wine country to explore. The 2010 census shows a population of 14, 674 with the metropolitan area population of 142,316. Traverse City claims to be the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. It holds a Cherry Festival in spring/summer with over 150 events and attracting approximately 500,000 visitors annually.

Traverse City also holds an annual Traverse City Film Festival, founded by filmmaker Michael Moore. The main venue is the historic State Street Theatre, a recently renovated gem in the center of Front Street, the main commercial street in Traverse City. The theater was constructed in 1916 by Julius Steinberg (then the Lyric Theatre) to compliment the Grand Opera House. It has been destroyed by fire twice in its history, but rebuilt in all of its finery. It became the State Theatre in 1949. The theater was donated by the Rotary Charities (see more on them below) to Traverse City Film Festival in 2007. The pictures of the theater show that they did an amazing job of renovation, and some local residents (yes, our friends!) claim the theater renovation is responsible for much of the health of the city. The ceiling inside the theater, which boasts 2,000 fiber optic lights, is an exact replica of an August sky in Northern Michigan. It was designed by an Astronomy instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. Besides the film festival, they have intensive programming of the theater throughout the year. It shows the local high school’s “away” football games, has 25 cent matinees, and Friday night flicks for $3 or 2 tickets for $5. They have teamed up with two local restaurants for “Dinner and a Movie” for $30. Their advertising is catchy: Two menu items, two drinks, two pieces of pie and admission to the theater for two. Check out their website at http://www.statetheatretc.org/

The Traverse City Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau website shows a large variety of local festivals and events. http://www.traversecity.com/events-33/

Traverse City’s downtown runs along Front Street between Boardman and Pine Streets, four long blocks. The area is lively and caters to both local residents and tourists. The features the city has incorporated (which you can see in the slideshow) are: clear, distinctive signage, inviting streetscape with brick pavers incorporated n the sidewalks and “bulb-out” to allow for seating areas within the downtown. Many stores also provide outdoor seating and restaurants have incorporated outdoor dining: or the next best with large screen windows on the sidewalk facing edges. They have decorative lighting, benches, all of the amenities that help make visiting Traverse City a pleasant experience.

The window displays are done with artistic flair, and although my pictures aren’t great, you can get an idea. (It was a bright, sunny day and I had a very difficult time getting good pictures without reflections in the windows.)

Through Grand Traverse County, the Traverse City area started brownfield projects about ten years ago, with almost all of the renewal of these areas coming from $27 million of brownfield redevelopment programs. The program is set up similarly to Oregon’s urban renewal program: the projects are funded out of the tax increment coming from the increased taxes on the projects. However, they collect on both state and local taxes to support the development. After the developer has been repaid for eligible activities, the redevelopment agency can collect the taxes for an additional 5 years. One of the pictures in the slideshow is of the new five-story mixed-use project developed with $1.8 million of assistance from the brownfield program. The building is expected to generate $20 million in investment and create 60 jobs. The site had been vacant and idle for over 9 years, and now brings vitality to a major corner in the downtown area. You can see other projects done in the Traverse City area at this link: http://www.co.grandtraverse.mi.us/departments/planning/brownfield/Summary_of_Projects.htm

If you are looking for a fun place in the mid-west to visit, try Traverse City!

Note: Rotary Charities had net assets at the beginning of FY 2010 of $33Million. These funds (I was told) are from property they owned which had oil and gas revenue...According to their financial summary, they planned to give $1.5 Million in grants in FY 2010.