TRAVERSE CITY — Downtown Traverse City has witnessed many changes in the first years of this millennium. Where suburban competition and vacancies were the concern in 2000, unmet demand for retail space, increased traffic and rising expectations for quality of life are downtown’s worries today.
These issues are, as the saying goes, good problems to have. Traverse City is on a roll that shows no signs of abating. Recent top ten accolades and a successful Pure Michigan campaign have drawn more visitors from farther away. Hotel occupancy is up, resulting in renewed investment in hotel facilities downtown and elsewhere. Thanks to a growing foodie town reputation, the food business is booming. Our bustling downtown farmers market runs out of vendor space in June and restaurants and microbreweries are sprouting up like May cherry blossoms. Just in the DDA District alone, we have 55 restaurants and coffeehouses - and that does not include the food trucks!
Since the recession, retail vacancy downtown has remained mostly below 5 percent and now is less than 1%. Retailers this year reported a great summer with a stronger late August than ever before. We don’t track office vacancy but know anecdotally that it has dropped dramatically since the downturn and buildings are nearly full. And more visitors to downtown mean more cars. Traffic at downtown’s two parking decks has increased 79 percent since the Old Town Deck was opened in 2009.
More people enjoying downtown and its businesses has had some impact on the condition of downtown. This summer we saw more trash than ever before and the need for more frequent sidewalk and street cleaning. Over winter we will be organizing a clean green downtown committee with the goal of developing a program to maintain downtown in a condition we all can be proud of. Traverse City has gotten a lot of praise lately and we do not want to disappoint.
The downtown public parking system has increased to accommodate the growth we knew was coming. Parking decks, though expensive, make room for new development by putting parking up and out of way. They also offer the greatest flexibility for all kinds of parkers from downtown employees, shoppers, and event goers. Our two parking decks have helped increase density downtown which in turn makes other modes of transportation, such as walking, biking and transit, more viable. Cars and parking will always be a critical piece of the transportation mix but have to make way for these other modes, which will increase at a faster pace.
Traverse City Tourism just reported that 3.3 million people visited our region last year. Besides the direct affect visitors have on the hotel and retail trade, some of these visitors decide to move here and a few of them bring their business with them. This has increased the need for hotel rooms and retail space, but also housing and office space downtown.
We need to be prepared for this by having a clear vision for our future and being ready to welcome those willing to invest in that vision.