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Boyne City Bounces Back

While Northern Michigan suffered during the recession, one town weathered the storm – and then some.

Ross Boissoneau - May 19th, 2014  

Boyne City has continued to grow and prosper over the past several years, a function of good leadership and “a bunch of little things,” said Jim Baumann, executive director of the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce.

“There is no magic bullet,” he said. “It’s one of the few [communities] that’s growing.”

In 2010, Boyne City’s population was 3,500; it’s now up to more than 3,700.

Baumann said joining the state’s Main Street Michigan program was “key.” Main Street is a four-point program that includes attending to design, economic restructuring, promoting the community, and involving everyone to work toward the goal of revitalizing the city [see sidebar].

Nearby Boyne Mountain is another positive, which Baumann says goes both ways.

The ski hill and recreation area provide a number of jobs and bring people to the area year-round, while Boyne City’s restaurants, shops and proximity to Lake Charlevoix benefit Boyne Mountain. “They realize Boyne City’s success is good for them too,” he said.

Developments like a waterfront building, the Sommerset Pointe Yacht Club just west of downtown, and the upcoming renovation and restoration of the long-neglected Dilworth Hotel have all added to Boyne City’s growth.

The first project to noticeably impact the city, however, was the opening of Red Mesa Grill in the middle of downtown. The colorful restaurant offers food with a flair from south of the border and the Caribbean.

Magnum Hospitality’s Fred Moore said his company looked at the possibility of opening a restaurant in Traverse City, but was put off by the competition and the prices.

So instead the group looked at Boyne City – and they’ve never looked back.

“Rather than go to Petoskey for dinner, it gave people a reason to come to downtown Boyne City,” said Moore. “Boyne City has been very good to us.”

So good that given a chance to open another restaurant there, they jumped at it. When developer Glen Catt spoke with Magnum about the One Water project he was constructing overlooking Lake Charlevoix, they opted to open a restaurant there.

“Glen approached us, and we were worried about competing against ourselves,” said Moore. “But we figured if he didn’t get us, he would get someone else.”

That led to Cafe Santé, a European-themed bistro. Moore says both restaurants are popular and profitable.

Catt’s One Water development also includes Alpine Chocolat Haus, the offices of Michigan Community Dental Clinics, and Kidd & Leavy Real Estate.

An adjacent marina, currently operated by the city, will service the cottages Catt is in the process of building. It also has slips for transient boaters.

“We bought the property in spring of 2008, just before the recession really hit in the fall,” says Catt. “We decided to move ahead to see what we could do to make it work. There’s no way it would have worked without Magnum Hospitality.”

Catt says his company is looking at some other potential developments in the Boyne City area, but he declined to elaborate on them.

He remains bullish on the city’s future, however.

“We’ve had a business there since 1954,” he said. “Boyne City has been very good to my family.”

Real estate agent and longtime resident Don Toffolo says the area suffered like the rest of the state with the loss of auto industry jobs. That led to a downturn in many economic indicators, including property values. Prices are now on the rebound, though Toffolo says the highest-priced properties are still lagging behind where they were before the recession.

“Property values are good. Homes priced under $200,000 are doing well,” he says. “It’s the homes at $300,000-400,000 and up where prices are slow coming back.”

Like others, Toffolo says the efforts of area leaders have paid off, especially the Friday evening “Stroll the Streets” program.

“Over the past six or seven years, the Stroll has really brought the community together,” he said. “Businesses are open Friday nights.”

Stroll the Streets brings people downtown for shopping, music, and general fun Friday evenings from 6-9pm. Musicians, magicians, caricature artists, face-painters, balloon twisters, and other family-friendly activities dot the streets.

The program, which runs from mid-June through Labor Day, is funded by contributions from Boyne City businesses.

Others outside the city have recognized its continued strength and are looking to capitalize on it. Cameron Brunet-Koch, president of North Central Michigan College in Petoskey, says the college is now offering a new program for Boyne City Public Schools.

High school students can take five years instead of four to complete their high school education and at the same time earn an associate’s degree at no charge.

Not that everything is working perfectly. Plans to deed the long-vacant theater to the town ended when the owners closed their next-door business, the Thirsty Goat. So that project is on hold.

About the empty buildings on South Lake Street, Bauman says he is hopeful about redevelopment.

The overarching feeling, however, is that such areas are opportunities for future growth rather than signs of a downturn.

Toffolo agrees. “This is my 42nd year here,” he said. “It’s a happy sight to see a small community so vibrant.”

Main Street Michigan Program Sparks Life in Old Downtowns

The Main Street Michigan program, which Boyne City is participating in, is run through the state housing development authority. It is a training program for municipalities that must first qualify.

The four-point approach of the Michigan Main Street program includes:


Capitalizing on the assets of the downtown’s physical environment, such as historic buildings, and creating an inviting atmosphere through renovation and perhaps new construction, all the while developing sensitive design management systems and long-term planning for sustainability.


Strengthening a community’s existing economic base by helping existing businesses and recruiting new ones, thereby converting unused space into productive property.


The effort to market the downtown’s unique characteristics to residents, visitors, investors and business owners through advertising, retail activities, events, and marketing campaigns.


Refers to the effort to involve all the downtown’s stakeholders to work toward a common goal, and driving a volunteerbased Main Street Program under the direction of a governing board, standing committees, and the guidance of a paid program director.

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