December 8, 2023

Our Shared Responsibility and Vision for the Future

Guest Opinion
By Gabe Schneider | May 20, 2023

I view Traverse City as our regional hub for economic and social activity. We raise families, build businesses, and find community and a sense of belonging here. I call TC home, even though I live in a neighboring township. My kids are TCAPS students, and my business has a Front Street mailing address. Downtown TC is special; drawing people like me and my family from around the region and around the world.

However, downtown needs our collective attention now more than ever. We have a shared responsibility to plan for, fund, and implement projects that advance our collective vision for the future. The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has and is leading this charge, and I am asking that the community join us in this effort.

The downtown I love did not appear by accident, but rather by design. Since the 1970s, plans like TIF 97 were made, implemented, amended and changed, and re-implemented, and today we are benefiting from those decisions. Made up of volunteers like me, the DDA has championed the creation of spaces that have garnered our thriving downtown national recognition as the place: the place to do business, vacation, raise a family, and, in short, drive our regional economy.

However, the continued viability of our community hinges on our ability to attract and retain year-round, working-age residents with families. These are the tax-payers, voters, and citizens who fill our schools and patronize our businesses. They’re drawn to quality places like riverfronts, parks, and farmers markets. This kind of placemaking is what the DDA does, and this work will be the key driver of our region’s future success.

This is our shared responsibility. Our vision for the future. While the city maintains basic functions of community living, infrastructure, and public safety, these functions alone do not ensure that our community is vibrant, thriving, and attractive for year-round residents or young people like my kids.

This is where the DDA steps in. The DDA, a close and stable partner for the city, can leverage financing tools, like Tax Increment Financing (TIF), to make the types of investments that would not be possible on the dime of city taxpayers alone. With TIF, public infrastructure is funded by property owners solely within the city designated TIF district with no extra cost to any other taxpayer. In the last 30 years, the DDA has used TIF 97 to improve the Open Space, build bridges, heat sidewalks, add parking, and expand trails and river walks.

So where do we go in the next 30 years? Well, the residents have spoken, and the DDA is on it! Thanks to our community’s input, the DDA now has a new strategic plan, Moving Downtown Forward.

The plan lays out a shared vision for our future:
- Protect and enhance the lower Boardman/Ottaway riverfront
- Stack (vs. sprawl) downtown parking spaces
- Make Rotary Square the center of our community
- Make climate resilient infrastructure
- Champion the development of attainable housing
- Support job growth and varied career opportunities, especially local independent business
- Create a built environment that is accessible to people of all abilities through heated sidewalks and more mobility options

To fully implement this shared vision, it will take a shared responsibility. These projects will not be able to advance if the DDA does not have reliable and sustainable funding. Our community—city residents and neighboring communities—need to support the DDA in creating amenities that we all want and need, amenities that will attract year-round residents.

I am reminded about the importance of implementing this collective vision for the future every time my 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son ask me to go downtown after school. For my kids, downtown TC is the place to be. It’s Clinch Park, where they meet friends to swim and hang out. It’s Rotary Square, where they go to watch the big game. It’s the placemaking, streetscape improvements, and wayfinding signs that encourage them to walk the 14 blocks from school to Petoskey Pretzel on a weekday afternoon.

We must ensure that our young people, potential new residents, and future generations continue to have an inclusive, growing, and vibrant region, anchored by downtown Traverse City. These are the investments that the DDA has made over the last 30 years, thanks to our creative use of tools like TIF.

Our work is not done. Now is the time to rally around the DDA and keep TIF and keep hope that kids like mine may someday also choose Traverse City to build their business and raise their families. This is our shared responsibility.

Gabe Schneider is the chair of the Traverse City DDA and founder of Northern Strategies 360, a government affairs consulting firm. As a downtown business owner, dad, mountain biker, fly fisher, and skier, he is passionate about our environment, community, and city core.


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