The Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI) supports the proposal. It will help downtown Traverse City thrive and discourage the kind of suburban development that harms our entire region. The choice really is this simple: More well-planned development in town, or more sprawling development in the countryside.
In fact, with our regions population doubling in a generation, everyone is wondering: Just where will we put all these people?
One thing is certain: Our current path will not take us to an answer we like. The statistics are stark: In the last census period, for example, Long Lake Township grew 28 percent. East Bay Township grew 19 percent. Traverse City? Its population fell 4.1 percent.
Were already seeing the consequences of this sprawling growthworsening traffic congestion; farms lost to suburban development; wide-open views and pristine lakes and streams at risk.
The new deck will help reverse that trend. It encourages growth where it should occurdowntown. Stacking cars in an attractive complex that includes business, retail, and housing space will transform an unsightly, wasteful parking lot into a new center of social and economic activity. The ultimate goal of adding density in this manner is not to house more cars, but to stimulate more investment downtowninstead of in the surrounding countrysideand create a more walkable and pedestrian-friendly community.
One misconception I hear frequently is that the deck uses public funds inappropriately to benefit a private developer. It is important to understand that this is a public-private partnership, which is a common development tool, but that no public funds will go toward the private development.
However, as the public deck rises, so will private development: $45 million in brand-new shops, offices, and homes. Private dollars will transform an underutilized, unattractive property into a bustling one, expand the citys tax base, and generate new property tax revenue that will be dedicated to the decks bond. Combined with nearly $7 million in existing state brownfield and economic development grants already targeted for cleaning up the site, that dedicated revenue will pay off the deck. After that, the new revenue goes to the city.
Complicated? Yes. A highly effective use of the citys full faith and credit? Absolutely. In fact, Traverse City and many other cities around our state have repeatedly done exactly this sort of thing to revitalize and boost downtown development. The most important aspect of this financing arrangement is that no additional taxes are being raised on existing propertycommercial or residentialto pay for the parking deck. In other words, this will not cost you or me any additional tax dollars.
Careful planning, a citizen-based master plan, and smart use of bonds, private investments, and state and federal cleanup money have made Traverse Citys downtown the envy of many cities. Our master plan specifically calls for parking decks to replace surface lots and encourages private developments that mix retail, office, and residential uses.
The MLUI has advanced Smart Growth through research, education, and advocacy for more than a decade. Everything we see and study reconfirms that there is no escaping growth, and that reinvesting in communities makes way more sense than building in the countryside.
Because the MLUI has long been on the frontline of the battle against sprawl, we know that advocating for Smart Growth isnt always popular. Facing strong opposition in the past, weve stopped wasteful highway proposals, organized against mega-developments like the one proposed for Acme Township, and supported the new downtown Traverse City BATA transfer station. Were also at the center of the most significant regional planning initiative in our regions history, the Grand Traverse Area Land Use and Transportation Study.
Our support of the parking deck proposal is part of that tradition. The deck is a great opportunity for the Grand Traverse region to avoid a trap that harms so many other citiesone that drains a downtown and leaves residents to wonder what ever happened to the community they loved. The sad fact is that they failed to do what we must always do: think long term.
TC resident Hans Voss is executive director of the Michigan Land Use Institute.