Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 18, 2013

Forum: Parkland change requires public vote

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — By Grant Parsons

I love the Traverse City Film Festival but I love Traverse City parkland more.

In the last five months, the Festival signed an agreement to “manage” the Con Foster building, now renovated as the Bijou by the Bay. Then the Festival asked the City Commission to add a lighted sign, then a 180-square-foot marquee with flashing lights.

Next, the flashing lights were deleted by popular demand, but a “vestibule” was added. Then the vestibule was deleted and the marquee became a free-standing “box.” On Monday night, the City Commission struggled to figure out the basics of the Fest’s proposal — lights, size, hours of operation?

The Commission got one key fact right: The Bijou is located on City parkland.

It’s hard to stand on principle when you’re dealing with friends. Here’s the principle: The City Charter requires a three-fifths vote for disposition of parkland. Bay parkland is being exploited by many interests. As much as I want to give the Film Festival a free pass for being truly great people, I am afraid others will misuse the precedent.

The parkland issue became heated in 1986 when I represented my friend, Bob Russell, and sued for the right to vote on another parkland give-away. We won the case and the vote, and the Farmer’s Market now stands where the Bayview Mall developer planned a six-story parking ramp.

Since that 1986 vote, there have been others: 1) the Kilwin’s Fudge handicap ramp needed a vote to take a slice of the Jay Smith Walkway; 2) the Chamber of Commerce remodeling needed a vote; 3) there was a vote whether to give the state of Michigan a small strip of Sunset Park to widen Front Street; 4) there was the recent Division Street vote. They’re all about Charter Section 126 and parkland.

The Bijou is a very nice idea in a very complex place. The Festival’s 10-year “management” agreement was probably a dodge to avoid a vote. The proposed sign (and vestibule addition?) will eventually replace the identity of the Con Foster Museum. Maybe time should move on.

But does that mean our parkland protection principle must also be replaced, as a favor to a friend? A vote, which the Festival would probably win, would preserve an important principle, while the Festival could continue its Bijou development at a slightly slower pace.

What we do for friends, we must do for others. Name your rock promoter, your religious group, your vendor of choice. How much parkland will you give to the next group that comes up with a bayfront idea?

We deserve to know what the Film Festival wants and I don’t mean snippets; I mean the finished vision. We deserve to know whether parkland protection principles are still intact. Until these questions are answered, I must regretfully and respectfully oppose my Festival friends.

About the author: Grant W. Parsons, a Traverse City attorney whose first case was the 1986 Bayview Mall lawsuit on behalf of the Northwest Michigan Environmental Action Council, which resulted in a citywide vote to reject a downtown mall, and preserved the parkland that is now the Farmer’s Market.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing Please include biographical information and a photo.