BY MARY BEVANS GILLETT Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — Downtown Traverse City will see new food trucks, festivals, pubs and storefronts this summer along with the over 200 seasoned shops, eateries and events that call the district home.
Gary and Allison Jonas are joining the downtown line up with their new business, The Little Fleet, located at the former Jack’s Market at the corner of 448 East Front and Wellington streets. A full service bar, the Little Fleet is introducing year-round food trucks to the region.
“We wanted to create a fun, community space,” Gary Jonas said, noting the bar will have airy indoor and outdoor seating space for dining, but patrons are also able take food to go or eat in the lot. “It lends itself to a very casual atmosphere."
At least four permanent and two more rotating food trucks will be on site at any given day. The line-up includes the E-Z Cheesy, also owned by the Jonases and run by Kim Ryan, featuring upscale grilled cheese sandwiches, as well as Anchor Station, led by Michael Peterson, owner of Lulu’s and Siren Hall in Antrim County, which began serving during Memorial Day Weekend. Others on deck this summer are Roaming Harvest’s Little Yella, Dan Marsh of Red Ginger’s Dragon Wagon, and Charlevoix chef Adam Kline’s Pigs Eatin’ Ribs.
“It creates a cool, fun vibe. We have seen this work in other cities we love, and it can work here,” Jonas said. “It is filling a niche in Traverse City.”
“This is a great use for the old Jack’s Market parking lot,” said Downtown Development Authority Deputy Director Rob Bacigalupi. “We were encouraging private food market locations and are interested in what this does for the East Front area.”
City Clerk Benjamin Marentette has issued five permits for food trucks in the city and said he’s gearing up for quite a few more applications in the next week or two.
Brian Welburn, owner of King Wubbz Pita Dubz, has staked out the west end of downtown. King Wubbz and Roaming Harvest were the first food trucks to open on public space under the city’s new ordinance, parking their trucks on State Street east of Union Street.
“It’s going great and we now have delivery service into Union Street Station so I’m doing great,” Welburn said.
Bacigalupi said vacancy rates downtown are at a low 1.5 percent. This is a drop from 2.75 percent in December and 5.5 percent during much of 2011. Turnover, which is common each winter, was also lower than usual. DDA space and employment statistics are strong with 484,000 square feet of retail space, 841,000 square feet of office space, close to 520 businesses and 3,900 employees in the downtown core.
Traverse City’s reputation as a foodie town as well as a festival destination influenced other new ventures in addition to The Little Fleet.
The Workshop Brewing Company, owned by Pete Kirkwood, is opening mid-summer in the former Right Brain Brewery at 221 Garland St. in the Warehouse District. Kirkwood, who owns another brew pub in Pennsylvania, plans to feature craft beers and a wholesome, local food menu. The space is being renovated to expand seating in the former salon space, including garage doors that open onto a large patio during warm weather.
Winter openings included Georgina’s Taqueria at 419 East Front St. in the former Nine Bean Rows space, with an Asian and Latin fusion cuisine menu, and Morsel’s Cavallino’s Café at 131 Lake Ave. in the Hagerty building. Another new brew pub is in the works on Lake between the Om Café and Patisserie Amie, and future development by Paul and Amanda Danielson of Trattoria Stella is planned at the corner of Cass and 201 East Front.
In retail storefronts, Katie Grossnickle opened Glitz & Spurs, a women’s clothing and accessories shop, at 207 East Front in the former Leaping Lizard. The shop features equestrian attire as well as casual wear with a Western theme. Other recent updates include the new Seoul Sisters apparel and accessories at Front Street Commons, Buka Bike spinning classes at 205 Lake Ave. and a renovated American Spoon Foods that now includes a demonstration kitchen. Nearby Clinch Park is set to officially re-open on June 25.
Summer events will add further energy to the district. The National Cherry Festival moves to an earlier date, running June 29 to July 6, while the Traverse City Film Festival is slated for July 30 to Aug. 4. New this year is the Traverse City Music Festival, Aug. 16 to 17, produced by Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions. Friday Night Live, downtown’s weekly summer block parties, are planned for every Friday in August. Summer art fairs are slated for June 23, June 30 and August 17.
“We’re healthier than we’ve ever been as we go into a very exciting summer,” said DDA Executive Director Bryan Crough, noting many communities in other parts of the country have not rebounded the way Traverse City has. “We have very few empty buildings, more planned events, new development coming and retailers still wanting to come downtown.”