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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.

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Locating The Spirit

What do we do with the Spirit? (photo by Pricelessphotography.com)

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.

The Brainstorm

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.

  1. The location needs family orientated foot traffic.
  2. The location needs other attractions.
  3. 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.

The Spirit of Traverse City in action (Photo by John Russell)

The Opportunities

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.

If not a road, then what? Why not a home for the Spirit of TC.

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?

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* Thank you to Elizabeth Price and John Russell for the use of the photos on short notice. Ding! Ding!

  1. April 11, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Very cool idea Gary. It might include some “stations” that are simple signs that tell a little story about the history of TC.

  2. June Thaden
    April 11, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Hey, Gary. Great idea! The TART trail will already go through that area, and having a park there fits perfectly, and enhance the trail and that part of the Lake. Hard for me to realize the actual size of the space, seems like some of the area may best be residential. And an ice cream shop like Bardons would be so great there. “Let’s go get an ice cream after we’ve picked books at the library”!

  3. R. Shimel
    April 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Gary, I like the idea of the west side of Boardman Lake being cleaned up and used for something. I don’t think the train works. It is an impulse attraction not a designation attraction. The train needs to be where the people are. It won’t attract them. Operating where it is only results in 20 thousand (rounded up) people in a season. That’s seven days a week from Memorial to Labor days.

    As far as the train as a people mover I am all for it. During the bay front meetings it was discussed as a possible use. Run the train from the senior center to the west end beach with stops in between. The long narrow bay front is perfect for this kind of people mover and it would make a much larger impact than the park 101 stuff were looking at now.

  4. April 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I like the idea of the train being close to the library with its children’s garden – there’s certainly enought space to develop additional park-like features (like an ice cream stand!) in that area.

  5. Brian
    April 11, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Great idea, Gary. I think that would be a very good use for the space. I think that previous commenters also make very good suggestions. In any case, I think that both the train should be retained as a city asset and that the west boardman lake area should be developed for the benefit of the surrounding neighborhoods and city.

    Our first real spring day, Saturday, saw the first surge of pedestrians that I see on the TART/10th street corridor. On most nice days, pedestrians outnumber cars. I think that turning much of the west boardman lake area into a more developed park would be a huge asset to the area, especially if the old Brown Lumber block building could be converted to a public square which would serve as a more formal park. I already see the top of hill at Oryana as an informal meeting place and park. An ice cream shop would be required.

  6. AnneB
    April 12, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Love the concept, Gary. Even though it is close to an existing kid-friendly features (library/garden), I’m not in love with the Hull Park idea – there is a lot of traffic with boat launching, a ton of people walk dogs there and there is not a lot of parking once the slots near the launch are full – and they are full most days. A bunch of public money was already spent redeveloping Hull Park not all that long ago. Let’s spend the money on a NEW public space, not renovating an existing space that was just fixed up a few short years ago.

    Of course, I’m not in love with that little train…and I’m not sure if I lived in the West Boardman area, I would want to live a stone’s throw away from its constant “toot-toot” all day long. 🙂

  7. Matt
    April 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I would like to see the train kept on the bay front. Maybe we could put in a zoo as well. LOL

  8. June 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I used to ride this train when I was little at the Clinch Park Zoo. I’m sad to see that the Zoo has been closed. Please try to keep it in Traverse City somewhere. I do like the idea of putting it near the Library or as a commuter train with one way and roundtrip fares. Or, going way out on a limb here, what about additing it to a putt-putt golf place or somewhere else near where all of the hotels are located? I haven’t been to Northern Michigan in such a long time. I’m so homesick.😦

  9. Amy Mueller
    June 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Any serious planning for relocating the train should involve the people who have knowledge about the specific needs of the train. Jeff and Don Frost are the first names that come to mind. I asked Jeff to look at the Waterfront Plan which shows a re-routed train route. He thought the angle of the curves on that route could cause excessive wear on the outer sides of the train’s wheels. I’m sure the Frosts would help this be accomplished and do it right the first time!

  10. Suzanne Browne
    June 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I feel that we all need to do everything possilble to keep this train. My husband was John Browne the zoo-keeper for 32 years..when he passed away in 2006, the zoo died to..all within months of each other. It was a sad year for the city of Traverse City losing two major i-cons of this beautiful city all at once. Now I have a 6 month old grandson who must ride this train that his biological grand father so proudly worked on and rode kids and adults around the zoo for 32 years. It was a 7 and 1/2 minute ride but nobody was more happier to take that ride than Jack Browne. Letting the child up front blow the whistle was the highlight of their day. Please let me know what I can do to help keep this very important Train that has so many memories for me as well and the children in Traverse City. Yes relocating the Train is a wonderful idea.

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