TRAVERSE CITY Raymond Minervini didn't expect there would be much interest in tours through the last remaining undeveloped portion of the former state mental hospital and its labyrinth of tunnels.

He was wrong. Tours have been a big hit, including outings week, and more will be scheduled.

The north portion of the former Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital's Building 50 the former female ward is slated for a major new project. Grand Traverse Senior Living is purchasing the property and plans to start construction in mid-April on a high-end senior living and care facility.

Minervini is partner with the Minervini Group, which has redeveloped the property since 2002. The company decided to start public tours before the senior living project begins, but didn't anticipate the big response.

Tricia Phelps of the Minervini Group said five dates sold out in 30 minutes last week. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons' Facebook page is filled with requests for more tours from people like Carol and Ron Wetzel who missed their chance to see the building's old history.

"We'd just be really interested to see how it was operated and the tunnels," Ron Wetzel said.

The senior living project will redevelop the last 113,000-square feet left untouched since the hospital's close.

The Kirkbride-style asylum was built in 1885 and, by the standards of the time, represented a "real leap forward in the care of our fellow human beings," Minervini said.

For example, the corners around the door frames were rounded to prevent contusions from agitated patients. Window panes were designed to create the illusion there were no bars preventing the patients' escape.

People lucky enough to land a spot on a tour will start in the Mercato and walk outside toward the north wing of Building 50. Many of the patient rooms are open for exploration, though people are warned to be aware of the peeling lead paint and must put protective covers over their shoes.

Once outside Building 50, the tour will go underground into the brick-lined tunnels that stretch beneath the hospital. The tour ends where it started: inside the new, redeveloped portion of Building 50.

Minervini said the senior living project was a milestone for the property, which was once slated for demolition. He said when the senior facility opens in June 2014 with more than 100 units for occupants that the entire building will be fully rehabilitated.

"A big part of the community has been trying to see that happen for more than 40 years," he said. "(They'll) know it will be used and here for hundreds more years to come. From developer point-of-view, the transaction brings greater economic activity and brings more residents to the area."

Future tour dates will be announced on The Village at Grand Traverse Commons Facebook page. They cost $25, with the proceeds going toward maintaining and replanting the former arboretum.



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