Russ Soyring hired on as Traverse City Planning Director in January 1986 and has helped guide the city’s direction ever since. He plans to retire in February after 35 years on the job.

Traverse City has benefitted from his toil.

“It is not often that a person has worked in a place for 35 years and is still at the top of his game,” planning commission Chairwoman Linda Koebert said this week.

She praised Soyring for keeping focus even during contentious debates, and for his gradual approaches that she believes make changes easier for city residents to accept.

Gradual though it may be, change has been a constant in Traverse City during Soyring’s long tenure — as it was before his arrival, and as it will be after he retires. Our community is in constant flux.

The world keeps changing, too. In addition to Soyring starting his job, a few other things happened in 1986.

The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after takeoff in January that year. A nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, exploded in April — the same month Arnold Schwarzenegger married Maria Shriver. Ohio resident Halle Berry in May 1986 took second place in the Miss USA pageant.

Director Spike Lee released his first feature film. Ronald Reagan dug into his second term as president. Steve Wozniak unveiled the new Apple IIGS computer.

Russ Soyring, meanwhile, was learning the ropes in Traverse City.

A bit has happened since then, both in the world at large and in Traverse City.

The city’s official population basically hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. The U.S. Census pegged it at 15,155 in 1990 and estimated it at 15,738 in 2019.

But Traverse City’s identity has changed immensely. It has grown from what was a relatively quiet northern Michigan community into a bustling hive of commerce and tourism that is visible on the national stage. Growth has delivered debate and controversy — about density, tall buildings, parking, open spaces.

Soyring’s job has been to suggest fresh ideas — and to sift through the varied opinions — about how Traverse City should change. Among projects he has shepherded are the conversion of a derelict ironworks into the site of condos and businesses including Hagerty; the updating of Eighth Street; the transformation of a beach near the Open Space; and the proposed Civic Square at State and Union streets.

Soyring credits the planning commission for bringing multiple perspectives to each debate. Multiple viewpoints are a key to city improvement, he believes.

But there’s no doubt that Soyring has contributed plenty to Traverse City’s decades-long journey from small town to a community that garners frequent mention on the national stage.

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