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City parking headed for redevelopment

July 9, 2020 GMT

TRAVERSE CITY — Some public parking in Traverse City could be redeveloped as part of a deal to build a downtown civic square.

Lot G, which sits along State Street between Mode’s Bum Steer and behind a row of shops, bars and restaurants, would be the site of a new development that’ll house Chemical Bank’s new location in a mixed-use development. That’s according to a plan city commissioners recently advanced by starting the process to declare the lot surplus.

Redeveloping the lot would clear the way for Downtown Development Authority’s plans to build a civic square where Chemical Bank’s current branch sits at State and Union streets, DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said. Rotary Charities boosted those plans with a $1 million grant, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation put up $2 million more.

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These grants would not only buy the land from TCF Bank — as Chemical Bank is known outside of Michigan — for $1.75 million but give the company a $750,000 incentive to relocate, Derenzy said. The developer, and not city taxpayers, would pay the rest, she stressed.

The DDA would have roughly $500,000 left to build the civic square, Derenzy said. It’s not enough, and the DDA will look to foundations and possibly tax increment finance reimbursement to cover the rest.

First, a lot of public input is needed on what to put in a civic square, Derenzy said. Ideas already include a place for public performances, ice skating and a home for the city’s holiday tree.

“It’s a lot of activity, it’s not just a place that people come to, it’s an activated-12-months square,” she said.

Mayor Jim Carruthers said he wants to ensure the housing planned as part of the building that’ll include the new bank branch is affordable. DDA board members were sold on the land deal with that understanding, he said — they also wanted some public parking there as well, and Derenzy said the current lot has 55 spaces.

Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe said she’s hesitant to put limitations on the project’s housing. The state has a specific definition for “affordable,” and she wants to explore creating more opportunities for people who work downtown to live there.

Affordable or workforce housing could be one component of the development, but too many demands could kill the project, Commissioner Brian McGillivary said.

Carruthers said he used the term “affordable” generally.

“I want to make sure it’s not luxury condominiums, because if we let it go, that’s what it’s going to be,” Carruthers said.

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Commissioner Tim Werner said he’s excited about a project that could give the city a chance to test redeveloping surface parking lots, something for which he’s repeatedly advocated.

Derenzy recommended an ad hoc committee with several city department heads, a DDA board member and more to pen a request for qualifications for developers interested in the project. That committee also could determine who ultimately owns the property.

Commissioners will hear a recommendation on whether to declare Lot G surplus at their Aug. 3 meeting, according to the motion.