Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 23, 2013

Editorial: Optimism fuels plans for library, downtown


---- — These are interesting days for the village of Kalkaska.

The village closed Jan. 11 on the purchase of the former Erb Lumber property on Cedar Street — which is also U.S. 131 — for a little more than $67,000.

The 2.5-acre site, just behind the Kalkaska trout statue, gives the village control of much of the east side of the 300 block of Cedar Street in the heart of the village's "downtown" and is seen as a key to possible redevelopment there.

And just last week, the Kalkaska County Board of Commissioners agreed to ask voters in May to approve an 0.87-mill levy to fund a new, $3.7 million library that would be built on county land directly behind Birch Street Elementary School. Students would be able to go to the library straight from school; right now, they have to cross U.S. 131 to get to the existing library on Cedar.

Both are major steps for a place that is continually battling to overcome the challenge of 131, a U.S. highway that cuts right through town and carries as many as 19,000 cars and trucks a day.

Village officials are working on a long-term economic development plan that would include a large public space for picnics and a farmers market; they anticipate a brownfield redevelopment plan, a store-front corridor remake, and a strategy to recruit investors and developers.

They've gotten support — and nearly $70,000 in grants — from the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, Rotary Charities, the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, the Land Information Access Association and the Kalkaska Downtown Development Authority.

The County Board's decision to seek a library millage could be key. The existing library is cramped, the foundation is bad, the building leaks and has mold problems.

As Traverse City has found, a large, modern library is more than books; it's a place for the community to meet, grow and connect to the world.

Right now, taxpayers pay 0.25 mills to support the library; the new levy would be 0.87 mills. The owner of a home with a state equalized value of $50,000 pays $12.50 a year now; that would increase by $31 a year to $43.50 if the levy passes.

What counts most is that for the first time in a long time there are things afoot in Kalkaska; the village is moving its redevelopment plan forward, the county is asking voters to pitch in, library and school officials have hopes for a modern facility.

None of this will be fast or easy; but there is optimism, which can be contagious.