By Robert Downes
A new 1,000-seat outdoor concert facility at the site of the historic barns of the Grand Traverse Commons could fill the surrounding hills with the sound of music within the next two years.
Were very excited about this project, which will combine the efforts of the Botanic Garden Society to create a new 25-acre botanic garden, along with a plan to renovate and restore the cathedral barns at the Grand Traverse Commons, says Benjamin Marentette, executive director of the Recreational Authority for both the City of Traverse City and Garfield Township.
Marentette has been working on the project known as the Historic Barns Park for the past two-and-a-half years. He says its a team effort with three nonprofit players, including the Botanical Garden Society of Northwest Michigan, as well as Little Artshram (which overviews a community garden at the site) and SEEDS, which offers a farmer residency program.
Another key player is concert promoter Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions, who has taken a pro bono role as an advisor on the creation of an amphitheatre at the intersection of the two 11,500-square-foot barns at the southern end of the Grand Traverse Commons. Porter hopes to bring in big-name national acts for a summer season of outdoor concerts in the years ahead.
When completed, the Historic Barns Park is expected to have the same sort of allure as Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, a lush sculpture park which also offers a summer concert series, featuring top acts such as Chris Isaak and Willy Nelson.
Meijer Gardens is a major tourist draw for Grand Rapids and we see the same sort of excitement happening here in Traverse City with the new park, Marentette says.
He adds that the barns will play a year-round role in the entertainment and cultural mix. Both the Cathedral Barn (built in 1932) and the Historic Barn (1900) have two floors available for multiple uses. These could include symphonic concerts, plays and dance events; a year-round farm market; weddings, expositions and art fairs.
Organizers are preparing a fundraising campaign to raise the $1.5 million needed to launch the Botanic Garden, renovate the barns, and create the amphitheatre. Details on the capital campaign will be announced soon.
So, assuming the fundraising campaign goes well, when could the public begin enjoying their first concerts on the site, or a stroll through the new Botanic Garden?
We certainly wish for sooner rather than later, but were hoping for 2012 or 2013 at the latest.