TRAVERSE CITY — Heads shook and shoulders drooped as the group approached one of the last stops on a tour of Eighth Street in Traverse City: the brick and barn-red sheet metal walls of an auto parts warehouse.
City officials and area developers quizzed planning consultant Robert Gibbs about strategies to encourage redevelopment of what many considered an eyesore. But Gibbs loved the brickwork — if not the sheet metal that covered it — and the activity the warehouse spurs on its Lake Street side.
“That’s a real cool street; there’s a lot going on,” Gibbs said later. “That makes it a real place. You have to have a balance between gentrifying it and leaving its industrial character. It’s rare in northern Michigan cities.”
Gibbs spent an afternoon this week with about two dozen city officials, developers, planners, and business people on a tour of Eighth Street. Gibbs is a principal in Birmingham-based Gibbs Planning Group that specializes in applying fundamental retail and merchandising principles to historic downtowns and new town centers.
The group slowly snaked along the narrow sand- and gravel-covered sidewalks between Union Street and Woodmere Avenue as the soft-spoken Gibbs quizzed those close to him about rental and property prices and the history of certain buildings.
Cars and trucks that zipped along Eighth Street a few steps from the group frequently drowned out his voice.
Gibbs often slowed his pace or stopped entirely when he saw something he liked. His favorite sites included Lake Street, the Old Town Parking Deck, and Randy’s Olde Towne Service.
“That is one of the coolest buildings in Traverse City,” Gibbs said of the green-tiled auto service station. “When it stops becoming a station if it becomes a restaurant, Generation Xers and Millennials will love it.”