Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 10, 2013

TC coal dock decision looms

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Discussions are heating up over the future of Traverse City's old coal dock, and varying interests are trying to stake a claim in the bayfront property.

The coal dock comprises 2.2 acres of waterfront, including an earth-filled, key-shaped pier adjacent to Elmwood Township's bayfront park and marina properties.

It's a rare deep water port in West Grand Traverse Bay and sits mostly unused by its owner, Traverse City Light & Power. A locked gate bars public access.

Light & Power and the Traverse City officials both expect to discuss the property's future before year's end, officials said.

"There's a lot of interest from a lot of different people to use it," said Tim Arends, Light & Power's executive director. "It's like the Open Space and it has an amazing view of the bay and the city and it would be great if we could allow the public to use it."

Traverse City purchased the property in 1968 for $240,000. That bayfront land and 10 acres across M-22 recently were appraised at $2.4 million. The land once was used to unload and store coal, and utility officials mulled possible uses, but now are likely to unload it.

Arends said he can't foresee Light & Power having a long-term use for the property. He's trying to arrange a joint meeting between his board and the city commission to discuss what to do with it.

Jim Carruthers, a city commissioner who also sits on the utility board, said the property should be transferred back to the city if Light & Power has no use for it.

Mayor Michael Estes agrees, calling the future of the coal dock a "policy decision" that belongs with the city commission. Estes said a sale of the property isn't out of the question.

"If somebody wants to make the city an offer, I'll definitely listen," Estes said.

Elmwood Township officials have a mild interest, but the most ambitious plan comes from the Discovery Center Great Lakes, a group of nonprofits housed on adjacent property owned by Rotary Charities.

The Discovery Center would like to manage the entire property for the city.

"We would like to see it kept in the public domain and we would really like to open it up to the public," said Rod Jones, president of the Maritime Heritage Alliance, a Discovery Center member that leases space at the coal dock.

The Discovery Center wants to expand its buildings and create a public marina of up to 100 boat slips, plus a pedestrian bridge over M-22. Mike Wills, chairman of the Discovery Center board, said he expects to make a formal proposal to the city commission and Light & Power board in the next two to three months.

The marina would sit on the inside of the key-shaped coal dock and spread south to adjacent properties. The land of the pier would be open for passive recreation. The outer edge would remain a deep water port and double as a fishing pier.

"If everything comes together, maybe we can make this happen someday," Wills said. "The things we are proposing are good for the community, good for the area, and good for the economy."

The property would also make a great addition to Elmwood Township's park system, said Jack Kelly, township supervisor. But Kelly said he doesn't see the township board taking the property on as a park addition unless they own it.

"If they want to sell it for a buck we'd take it," Kelly said. "But not a management agreement (to operate it as a park). We have enough to handle and I don't think my board would agree to that."

Estes said he's not interested in giving away the property for a token dollar. He also predicts the city commission is a decade away from agreeing to any more management agreements with nonprofits, following recent controversy over the Con Foster Museum.

"I just know the city can't be giving away things to people just because we are nice guys," Estes said. "Tell me what this does for Traverse City residents and that's when we start talking."