When Bryan Crough became executive director of Traverse City’s Downtown Development Authority in 1990, downtown wasn’t the place it is today - or the place to be.
The JC Penney department store had moved out, the former State Theatre building was shut down, the city Opera House was the worse for wear, there were no parking decks but there were lots of vacant storefronts, including a former Firestone tire store at Front and Park streets. The Grand Traverse Mall - which many predicted would be the death of downtown - had recently opened.
The change since then has been nothing short of remarkable. And a lot of people credit Crough, who died June 16 of an apparent heart attack, for that transformation.
Although Crough sometimes came in for criticism from elected officials and some in the business community for doing things his way, there is simply no denying his devotion to the city and the downtown. Or his ability to get things done - usually the way he wanted them done.
“When you look at the vision he had, he saw a booming downtown when no one else saw it,” said Mayor Michael Estes. “Bryan could see where he wanted to go, and embarked on that path.”
Filmmaker and Traverse City Film Festival co-founder Michael Moore, the catalyst behind the rebirth of the State, said flatly it wouldn’t have happened without Crough.
Moore paid tribute to Crough’s life with a special message on the theatre’s marquee: “Bryan Crough: When we look down this street, we will always see you.”
Moore was not alone in his praise.
Attorney Chuck Judson, who served on the DDA board that hired Crough, said the DDA was looking for someone who “could serve as a catalyst for the downtown ...”
“We felt we had three to four years before we ran out of money,” Judson said. “It was a very critical time for us ... and he had a vision for what could happen.”