Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 8, 2013

Parks, movies on Traverse City agenda

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Proposals for movies in museums and tapping a trust fund for millions of dollars in parks improvements will headline the city commission's upcoming study session.

The Traverse City Film Festival's proposal to convert the vacant Con Foster Museum into a movie house on the bay has drawn the most attention, but Mayor Michael Estes said the possibility of tapping the $13.2 million Brown Bridge Trust Fund will have the greatest affect on city residents.

The commission will discuss both items today during a 7 p.m. meeting at the Governmental Center.

"The most pressing issue is finding additional resources for capital improvements in the parks," Estes said. "It affects every neighborhood in Traverse City."

Royalties from the extraction of oil and gas beneath the city's 1,300-acre Brown Bridge Quiet Area go into a trust fund. Interest from the trust fund is placed in the city's general fund, but the principal can't be spent without voter approval, according to city charter.

Commissioners last month expressed their willingness to ask voters to tap the Brown Bridge Trust Fund. Now they need to decide on details, Commissioner Mike Gillman said.

City staff drafted an initial proposal for the November ballot, based on the commission's previous discussion. The draft would cap the fund at $12.5 million and spend the balance plus future annual royalties on park improvements. Since 2000 royalty payments ranged from a low of $237,000 to a high of $738,000, depending upon oil and gas price fluctuations.

City Manager Ben Bifoss said commissioners will be asked to address three questions tonight: is the cap the right amount; should the withdrawal be a specific term of years with future voter renewals; and should the commission create a list of specific projects it intends to fund.

City Commissioner Jim Carruthers said he favors a project list with an initial focus on reworking trails and restoring newly exposed bottom lands at the Brown Bridge Quiet Area that were created by dam removal in 2012.

Gillman also supports a project list but with a focus on parks inside the city.

Estes opposes listing specific projects.

"Everyone will want to know why their pet project isn't on it," he said.

Commissioners likely will focus on details when they discusses Traverse City Film Festival officials' request to spend $800,000 to convert the Con Foster building into the "Bijou by the Bay," effectively a second sceening area to augment the State Theatre downtown.

Estes said he believes commissioners generally support the plan. Carruthers and Gillman concurred.

"I'm entertained by it," Gillman said. "Cautiously supportive."

Estes said commissioners may take issue with certain details, such as renaming the building.

"If they are talking about taking down the name Con Foster, it probably isn't going to work very well," Estes said.

Commissioners also will debate a proposal to allow residents on a limited number of streets to park cars on lawn areas between the sidewalk and the street. Bifoss said some properties lack driveways or alleys and residents can't park on the street overnight during the winter.

"I don't think we've written any tickets, but we've written warnings and forced people to comply even though it's a significant hardship," Bifoss said. "That's been kicking around for a long time ... and we don't have a perfect solution."