Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 8, 2013

Could community center be answer for vacancy in Fife Lake?

FIFE LAKE -- Empty storefronts along Fife Lake’s tiny business district hint that the quaint village may be struggling with the same economic challenges facing many small Michigan towns.

But a handful of residents believe they’ve found a way to preserve one vacant downtown building and also breathe new life into the community.

Fife Lake residents Teresa Mills and Doug Bishop are two of a small group of Fife Lake residents who turned to the Internet for ideas on converting one of the town’s empty buildings into a Makerspace.

Makerspaces are a growing trend in cities and towns across the country, a movement in which nonprofit groups turn vacant buildings into community activity centers that offer educational environments for peer learning and knowledge sharing.

“The consensus is that Fife Lake is the lost corner of Grand Traverse County,” Teresa Mills said. “People have lost hope around here. Businesses are struggling to stay open. The pharmacy closed two weeks ago.”

To bring their Makerspace vision to reality, the Fife Lake group is eyeing one of the town’s landmark buildings, the former Kimball grocery store, that has been empty in the central part of the downtown for two years. The building, constructed in the late 1880s, housed a variety of businesses throughout the years, and some members of the town’s Downtown Development Authority think it has seen better days.

“One DDA member suggested getting an $80,000 loan, buying the building from the bank for $50,000 and paying a local contractor $30,000 to tear it down,” Mills said.

Mills chose a different path. She's working with Bishop, a 35-year resident and the village’s former fire chief, as well as retired pastor Stan Hayes and Mark Williams, the current pastor of the Kalkaska United Methodist Church, on a better use for the building.

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