It’s not often local leaders get a chance to make decisions that residents 50 years from now will remember.
In the 1970s Traverse City residents voted to create the Brown Bridge Trust Fund from oil and gas well revenues. In the 1980s they agreed to tap the fund to buy former railroad property that became West End Beach. In 2004 Traverse City Light & Power tore down the old coal-fired power plant at the Open Space.
The City Commission has a similar opportunity now, and can’t let it get away. The Discovery Center Great Lakes, an alliance of water-focused nonprofit agencies supported by Rotary Charities, has proposed taking over the former Light & Power coal dock on West Bay to create a regional education, recreation and tourism destination.
The nonprofits would create a community harbor, private marina, public fishing pier and viewing spot that would almost overnight become a premier local recreation asset.
The $13 million to $15 million makeover would triple the size of the Great Lakes Children’s Museum and create a wooden boat-building shop for the Maritime Heritage Alliance.
The 100-slip private marina would produce an annual revenue stream for the nonprofits. There are also plans for a community harbor for the tall ship Manitou (or other sight-seeing boats) and ships of the Maritime Heritage Alliance, the Watershed Center, and Traverse Area Community Sailing. A section could house charter fishing and diving boats and retain a deep-water port capable of serving tour ships or water taxis.
The groups have even talked about someday creating a fresh-water aquarium and interpretive center across M-22, linked to the coal dock by a pedestrian bridge, a place kids would never forget.
The complex could also anchor the proposed Greilickville commercial area.
This is visionary stuff that could finally give the Grand Traverse region a powerful, accessible link to the bay and the Great Lakes it has never had. Yes, the city has its beaches and the Open Space, but there are few opportunities for local residents to experience our freshwater heritage firsthand.
The city purchased the 2.2 acres about a mile north of M-72 in the 1960s as a place to receive coal for the old power plant. Light & Power also owns about 4.6 acres on the west side of M-22. Together the parcels were appraised at $2.68 million in 2012.
Light & Power has no use for the property; sell it and the $3 million melts into the city’s general fund.
There are dozens of details yet to be worked out before the city signs on to this or any plan for the coal dock. But city leaders owe it to area residents now and decades from now to give it a fair shot. It’s a chance that won’t come again.