Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 29, 2013

Editorial: City must seriously weigh nonprofits' coal dock plan

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Given the reaction from local governments, the official vision for Traverse City’s old coal dock is hardly as inspiring or exciting as that offered by a group of nonprofits.

Traverse City Light & Power, which owns the 2.2-acre chunk of fill that juts into West Bay, doesn’t want it. Traverse City, to whom the site would likely revert, doesn’t have any plans for it. Elmwood Township, which has made its adjacent township park and marina a showpiece, isn’t interested in the land on a lease basis.

It’s time, then, for the conversation to turn to a proposal from the Discovery Center Great Lakes, a group of nonprofits housed on adjacent property owned by Rotary Charities.

The Discovery Center would like to manage the property and open it to public use. It would almost immediately become one of the most popular and well-used sites on the bay.

The Discovery Center wants to expand its buildings and create a public marina of up to 100 slips, plus build a pedestrian bridge over M-22. Mike Wills, chairman of the Discovery Center board, said he expects to make a formal proposal to the city and Light & Power in a few months.

The old coal dock, which for three decades or so was the site where Traverse City Light & Power unloaded and stored coal for its bayfront power plant, is unique. It boasts one of the best views of the bay and the city anywhere, it’s a rare deep-water port on West Bay and would be an ideal fishing spot.

Right now, a locked gate bars public access.

Traverse City Mayor Mike Estes said selling the property isn’t out of the question; Elmwood supervisor Jack Kelly said the township would be interested if the price was maybe a buck. Estes said that won’t cut it.

Estes also said that, given the city’s recent experience with the management agreement for the Con Foster Museum, it’s a decade away from agreeing to any more deals with nonprofits.

That’s beside the point, What matters is the future of the coal dock and the adjacent land. The city paid just $240,000 for the coal dock and 10 acres across M-22 in 1968; the property was recently appraised at $2.4 million.

The city could split off the coal dock for public use, sell most of the remaining land and still make a small fortune. New marina space would be immediately gobbled up and the public would flock to a fishing pier.

This is prime public property that must be returned to public use, sooner rather than later.