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Large crowd turns out for Lakeshore development citizens group discussion

(Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette) Dave Bach introduces a citizens’ meeting on the Lakeshore Drive redevelopment project at the Portage Lake District Library Tuesday. Approximately 70 people attended the meeting, which included background on the project and tallies of people’s hopes and concerns for the project.

HOUGHTON — An overflow crowd gave its thoughts on what it would like to see done with the large parking deck property on Lakeshore Drive and its concerns with proposed redevelopment on the site during a community meeting Tuesday at the Portage Lake District Library.

The meeting was organized by resident Dave Bach. He got the idea for the meeting after talking to someone at the library, where he volunteers. The person had written a letter to the city about the development, but wondered what good it would do.

“I got to thinking, half the problem is, we’ve got to know there are others of us who are thinking about this,” he said. “If we all kind of go at this, each one of us, that’s tough. But if we work together, maybe we can get some good input in to the city.”

In August, the City Council voted 5-2 to enter into a contract with The Veridea Group of Marquette to develop a proposal for mixed-use development on two parcels taken up by parking decks on Lakeshore Drive between Quincy and Huron streets. The property does not include the Garver residence between the two decks, or the waterfront trail going through the city.

Attendees received 3-by-5 index cards; one side for what they wanted to see in a proposed development, the other side for their concerns.

The most common feature people wanted was better visibility of the Portage Canal from the street, which 38 people wrote down. The second was natural environment (30), followed by public interaction space (24).

“If we build it, they will come” is not a viable strategy, said Boone Fiala, co-owner of 5th & Elm in Houghton. If anything replaces the deck, he said, it should address actual needs.

“If we build a hotel too big, it’s going to be empty,” he said.

Three concerns dominated among the crowd. The top, at 45 votes, was that public input should go through the city, rather than the developer. Narrowly behind them were transparency in the role of public input in the decision making (44) and that the designs submitting in the request for qualifications were out of scale with the historic character of the area (43). Standards were relaxed for the concerns portion to allow people to raise their hands for items they had not written down.

Veridea was chosen from among three developers based on their response to city’s request for qualifications. In their presentation to the council, Veridea also outlined a $50 million project.

However, that may not resemble whatever project Veridea eventually proposes, Veridea and city officials have said. Houghton’s Lakeshore Drive Redevelopment Committee had its first meeting with Veridea earlier this month. Before the next meeting, Veridea is developing a concept plan with project architects EUA.

If the two sides cannot work out an agreement, Houghton can choose not to sell.

Karyn Olsson of The Marketing Department, which is handling outreach for Veridea, said at Tuesday’s meeting Veridea also plans to hold listening surveys and conduct surveys in collaboration with the city.

“The developer doesn’t want to put the wrong project up,” she said. “That’s not in their best interest. And so if they’re not doing it based on the needs of the community, it’s not effective for anybody.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, about 50 people fit into the library’s community room, with organizers reporting 15 to 20 more participating from the entryway outside.

The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Houghton. At that meeting, the group plans to develop an action plan and also discuss setting up a structure for the group.

Attendees said Tuesday’s meeting had been productive.

“I’m just hoping the city will listen to what the community wants,” said Marilyn Swift, owner of Swift’s Hardware in downtown Houghton. “It’s not just about money, and it’s not just about what their ideas are. I think they should listen to other ideas to think collectively and get a better plan.”

Swift wanted to ensure the development would preserve Houghton’s distinctiveness. She praised The Vault, the new hotel in the former Wells Fargo building, as a successful form of reuse.

Dave Camps, owner of Blue Terra Energy, said he had disagreed with the parking decks since they were put in, due to detracting from the appeal of the waterfront. He would like to see more space to put boats and RVs.

His biggest fear is the development will be short-sighted and not consider the assets of the area.

“You do have some historic character here, but I feel that’s holding us back a little bit into the past and we need a breakout moment to get beyond that,” he said.

Meral Jackson suggested the city adopt something like the citizen-based Boardman River Dams Committee. that group, which she had been part of, studied the feasibility of removing four dams in the Traverse City area.

“This is only the start of the redevelopment of the downtown,” she said. “This would be really good to start off on the right foot and get a system in place to be able to do that.”

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