Brainstorming A Home For The Spirit of Traverse City
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following opinions and brainstorming does not necessarily reflect the opinion of city staff or members of the TC parks and recreation commission. It is solely the mind-wandering of the author–all aboard.
Locating The Spirit
Last Thursday night, the Traverse City’s parks and recreation commission was asked to consider what’s to be done with the popular train,the Spirit of Traverse City. The train now circles the old Clinch Park zoo property during the summer. It was not included in the preliminary engineering designs that came out of the 2010 Bayfront plan, because it proved too limiting to design around the needed tracks, crossings and right of way while still providing new amenities. The parks and recreation commission and city staff are now trying to see if there is A) an alternative location B) if it’d be best to sell it or C) if it could be designed back into the Bayfront Plan.
During the conversation a lot of talk was about Hull Park (west of the library) as a new location. I’m not completely sold on that location so I started to brainstorm alternate locations. To operate the Spirit successfully in a new location, we need 3 things in addition to required space, financing and other technical considerations.
- The location needs family orientated foot traffic.
- The location needs other attractions.
- The train needs to fit the context.
Basically, what are the ingredients that will make the location special in addition to having a train there? An adjacent ice cream shop would help.
Return of Passenger Rail to West Boardman Lake
I threw-out the West Boardman Lake Development corridor as an alternative location originally more tongue-in-cheek, but the moment it came out of my mouth I began to the like idea more and more. If the community support, political will or need is not in place for the West Boardman Lake Avenue project the community will still be left with a brownfield district waiting for re-development and the money to accomplish it. A linear park with a mix of activities and strategic private development on the edges could actually be a unique economic opportunity and provide another lake-side park. The basic idea should be popular. At both public input session for the West Boardman Lake Development project this year, people have suggested the half-mile long corridor along West Boardman Lake is better suited as a linear park than a speedway; the Spirit of Traverse City moves pretty slow.
One issue with alternative locations for the Spirit is the lack of funds to 1) move the train and tracks and 2) properly develop the “place” around it. West Boardman Lake is a special brownfield district with captured money that may only be spent in the district’s boundaries. The money now dedicated to a road could be used to rethink the corridor with the Spirit as the initial focus and to fund the first phase.
I imagine an attractive activity center and public square where now a white cinder block warehouse and over-flow Oryana automobile parking now sits along and just east of Lake Avenue. Somewhere near there and east of McGough’s a depot could be “re-constructed.” I say re-constructed because a former yard office/train depot was located east of 11th and 12th St. back in the rail hey days.
If there was interest, a public-private partnership could make the new depot into a historical rail museum and/or a museum of the future that focuses on marketing and advocating for the return of passenger rail back to Traverse City.
A mini-train wouldn’t be enough. Investment and planning for Lake Ave. would be needed, as well as the property in the current wye location. The St. Andrews University study already has a nice concept for a public square/park northeast of Oryana and I’ve heard some interesting ideas floated around for non-motorized commuter boulevard running south with park and ride lots and transit centers for cyclists. New businesses could cater to these activities.
In addition, why not allow train passengers to board from either end. The Spirit could sell one-way or round-trip tickets. So, someone who found themselves at 14th St. needing to get to downtown could purchase a one-way ticket to get a half-mile closer: Traverse City’s first commuter train!
The idea needs more minds and talents pitching in with scenarios and possibilities. My attempts to draw a plan failed miserably (scale was way off), but I’d be interested to seeing what could be visualized with some handy crayon work.
What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Crazy idea, but still good?
What do you like about it?
If you’re really having difficulties with it, what are the roadblocks?
* Thank you to Elizabeth Price and John Russell for the use of the photos on short notice. Ding! Ding!