Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 29, 2012

Editorial: Show residents another side to bathhouse


---- — The engine that has driven Traverse City's bayfront revitalization plans was called "Your Bay, Your Say," and there's no good reason to ignore that fact now. This time around, though, the city needs to assure residents that choices being made for the waterfront reflect the wider aesthetic that has driven work so far.

A couple weeks ago the Record-Eagle published an artist's drawing of a building that will serve as a concession stand and will include bathrooms and a changing area. The goal is to have the $650,000 building completed by June, along with the $1.4 million worth of improvements already under way.

Soon after the drawing appeared, residents began letting city commissioners know they didn't think much of the design, particularly what appeared to be an aluminum or metal exterior, lots of glass and lots of square corners and right angles.

City Commissioner Mike Gillman, in fact, asked the city to postpone awarding bids for the second phase of the $2 million project to give the city time to explore a new design for the building.

"Frankly, the feedback I've been hearing back from the public ... is this is a pretty ugly building for the money we are putting into it," Gillman said.

He wasn't alone. Commissioner Mary Ann Moore also called it "ugly," while commissioner Jim Carruthers went with "not bad." Letter writers have called the design cold and stark. Judging from the drawing, the building didn't appear to blend with the few sandstone-and-brick buildings left from the site's previous life as the Clinch Park Zoo.

Beauty, however, may be not in the eye of the beholder but in what the image should look like. City Planner Russ Soyring said the exterior, which has drawn the most criticism, will actually be wood that will fade to the silvery-gray anyone who has a deck or wooden privacy fence is so familiar with. Soyring said the exterior will eventually look like the benches in the park that have already faded with exposure to the elements.

He said the aim was to make the building light and airy and blend with the site, not to re-create the "monumental" look one would get with stone and brick. He hopes the city can cut down invasive black locust trees that dot the bayshore and use that wood for the exterior or the bathhouse.

While it may, indeed, be too late — or even "totally inappropriate," as Mayor Mike Estes put it — to revisit the basic design, it's certainly not too late to do a bit of a sales job and find images that more closely resemble what the building is going to look like and post them online or in places where residents can see them and then listen.

Those who thought the building looked more like an urban diner than a beachside bathhouse may take some solace from new and more accurate images. At the very least, giving the public a better idea of what is planned is more in keeping with the "Your Bay" idea than essentially saying "this is it and you'll learn to like it."

That won't do.