Jean Derenzy: Downtown Traverse City embraces change | Business

Editor’s note: This article was published in the Economic Outlook 2021 section of Record-Eagle. For more stories, click here to read the section fully online.


It’s hard to imagine, but how many inner cities in post-industrial cities throughout the Midwest during the latter half of the 20th

To encourage new investments and promote opportunities for community and economic development, city guides began using financial instruments such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Much of this investment went into public infrastructure projects (ie new road design, open spaces, bridges and promenades). Over the past 40 years, these transformative investments in public infrastructure have contributed to the overwhelming success of Downtown Traverse City.

Today, downtown Traverse City serves as the economic and cultural center of northwest Michigan.

Its leafy and pedestrian-friendly streets, boutiques, unique restaurants and microbreweries, unique celebrations, and Lake Michigan location attract more than 3,000,000 visitors each year.

As one of the few cities in Michigan to see growth, the early 2020 census results showed that Traverse City’s population has grown nearly 7 percent over the past 10 years.

With this investment and growth, the value of downtown properties has risen by a staggering 286 percent over the past 25 years.

Today, downtown generates more than five times as much tax revenue per acre as the city as a whole – and about 50 times as much as all of Grand Traverse County.

Despite its success, Downtown Traverse City is at a critical juncture.

As in many popular holiday resorts in the district, there is also a lack of affordable housing in the city center.

Although Downtown Traverse City weathered the COVID-19 pandemic pretty well, it is uncertain when (or to what extent) office workers will return.

Additionally, many downtown shops and restaurants are struggling to maintain inventory and keep staff.

As a result, many companies have limited opening hours and limited service.

At the same time, part of our critical infrastructure in the city center is showing significant signs of wear and tear and must either be repaired or replaced.

TIF, the only cost-sharing tool and largest source of income for critical infrastructure in the city center, is slated to expire in 2028.

Without the TIF, Traverse City’s taxpayers would bear the full cost of upgrading downtown infrastructure.

Within the existing TIF 97 plan, a number of projects have been identified that are currently in the planning and / or development phase and will take several years to be fully developed and finally implemented.

These projects are essential to keep our urban core alive, healthy and accessible to all.

To meet the future needs of a growing and affluent community, the DDA will continue to support new investments in public infrastructure.

Here are some of the public infrastructure projects the DDA is working on over the next year.

  • The DDA, in collaboration with a community-led Lower Boardman Leadership Team, stands ready to adopt a comprehensive plan for the 1.6-mile Boardman-Ottaway River that meanders through downtown. The plan includes recommendations that address zoning regulations, land use, public access and habitat management along the river, as well as several capital improvement projects that will help the city center better utilize and celebrate this often neglected natural asset.
  • Roads and bridges are part of the core infrastructure that is essential for the transport network and the economic vitality of the city. East Front Street serves as the primary gateway to downtown Traverse City. However, the corridor lacks a coherent identity and has limited street elements. In addition, the condition of the roadway continues to deteriorate.

Last summer, the DDA and the city started a process to develop a new road design plan for East Front Street. The project also includes plans to replace the underground infrastructure along this section of East Front Street.

  • The DDA is also working on several “clean and green” initiatives. This includes efforts to maintain and routinely wash sidewalks throughout downtown, removing weeds and other growth from tree grids and other areas, replacing dead or dying trees, installing self-contained trash cans / compactors, and graffiti in a timely and efficient manner remove .
  • Good public spaces are an important element of a successful inner city. Over the next year, the DDA will sign a purchase agreement with Huntington Bank that will clear the way for the long-awaited Bürgerplatz.

In addition, the DDA is working on plans for a permanent farmers market with a covered communal area, wider islands, dining areas, river access and other amenities.

The DDA and the city are also working on a mixed-use backfill development on lots O and G that will include affordable housing.

Downtown Traverse City will continue to lead our community into the 21st century through investments in infrastructure and a conscious commitment to creating “places”.

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