By Rick Coates
Does Northern Michigan need another entertainment venue? Three forward-thinking partners think so and are planning a venue in Traverse Citys Old Town that will accommodate up to 1,000 patrons.
Jon Carlson and Greg Lobdell, owners of Blue Tractor, North Peak, Mission Table, Jolly Pumpkin have partnered with Sam Porter of Porterhouse Productions. The three are collaborating on a state-of-the-art entertainment complex on Union Street between 7th and 8th streets.
The nearly 18,000-square-foot venue will incorporate the existing Blue Tractor along with The Shed and The Good Works Collective Buildng (recently acquired by Porter for concerts, art events and gatherings). In addition, the project will expand into the current Blue Tractor parking lot.
The end result will be a two story complex with a roof-top patio and a concert venue that will hold up to 1,000 patrons for shows. The venue (currently nameless) will have 50-plus tap handles featuring Michigan craftbrews and the menu and wine list will also have a local flavor.
PLENTY OF ROOM
When asked about what appears to be an overcrowded entertainment market in Northern Michigan, Porter and his partners feel to the contrary.
Each existing venue fills an entertainment niche for the region. I think the more the merrier, we will complement each other not compete against one another, said Sam Porter. Our project will fill that current void of being able to dance, something other venues do not have. We are going to be a multi-purpose facility so one night the community may gather to watch the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup, the next night 1,000 people are out dancing to Umphreys McGee and the next night we have 500 people taking cooking lessons from someone like Mario Batali.
The project is slated to break ground in the fall of 2012 with a projected opening date of summer 2013.
Why the delay?
We might start earlier with some phases of the project. The reason for waiting is to get community input, said Porter. Ultimately this is going to be a project that is going to benefit the community and they need to be involved in the planning process.
As to whether or not the community is large enough to handle a project of this size, Porter and his partners are confident.
We are selling out winter and summer beer festivals along with other events. People in the region are starving for this sort of thing, said Porter. Currently we have 3,000 plus showing up in the snow and heated tents to drink great beer and dance to great bands. I feel confident that the market is there for this venue and its many uses on a nightly basis.
THE BACK STORY
Porter who grew up in Traverse City along with his wife Abby (also a native) launched a successful production company in Montana where Porterhouse Productions produced several concerts and festivals. Three years ago he decided to move back to his hometown to produce festivals and concerts in Northern Michigan. The summer and winter versions of the Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival, a Paella in Park event and his concert series at the City Opera House quickly became big hits.
Porter ran into one snag, however. The City Opera House felt that structurally their facility could not handle 750 patrons dancing and Porter was quickly without a venue.
Since we had to stop putting shows on there a day doesnt go by that a person hasnt asked me when and where we are you going to do shows like that again, said Porter. So now they have their answer -- very soon -- and at a place with no name for the time being.
Porter staged the 2011 Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival from the new location on Union Street, which will serve as a future site for the festival, along with additional events.
We are going to be about local beers, wines, foods, distillers, musicians, visual artists and more. While we will have several for-profit events, we see this venue serving the needs of the vast non-profit community as well.
Lobdell and Carlson have been business owners in Old Town since 2007 when they acquired the former Dills Restaurant and opened the Blue Tractor. Now Porter is excited to join them to help an area of Traverse City that has been overlooked in recent years.
So much of the focus has been about Front Street and that has been important. But I live in Old Town and am excited about the recent resurgence in this part of town, said Porter. Mark Fowler of EMS Catering and the recently opened Wishbones found a cool way to collaborate with Cedar Creek Interiors, opening up his restaurant in the middle of their store. Old Town is becoming very vibrant and this project is going to add to that, plus we are going to be good for the rest of downtown Traverse City.
To keep informed, share your ideas and even suggest a name for the new venue go to www.porterhouseproductions.com . They will be hosting the Dandy Horse Bike Festival on Saturday June 11, topping off TARTs Smart Commute Week and Bike Swap. The event will feature a concert from the Ragbirds and local beers and wines. Complete details are online.