Tread slowly when it comes to waterfront development

Hats off to Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Jim Klarich for all the hard work he does.

While economic development is by no means a one person job, Klarich brings expertise, common sense and a healthy dose of optimism with him to any table. Under his leadership in Alpena the community has grown and prospered, the latest announcement being this week’s news of a Holiday Inn Express locating in the downtown.

The project is interesting from several perspectives but today I want to focus on but one – water development. Located on the vacant lot off Third Street where once a car dealership was located, the motel will draw upon the beauty of the Thunder Bay River in that area, yet not intrude into its landscape as an unwelcome obstruction. It is the desire of motel management to complement the landscape in the area, not corrupt it.

That distinction is important moving forward.

Klarich, in a newspaper story Tuesday regarding the motel, told reporter Steve Schulwitz that work on attracting the motel management group began two and half years ago. He said he had a vision on where a hotel might be built in that area, and plans for the Holiday Inn Express closely mirror his own.

“…I knew we needed lodging on the water, whether that be the river or the lake,” Klarich said. “We are a little underdeveloped on the water. We have people that come here every day who ask if we have any accommodations on the water and up until this point we have had to say no. This will be the first development and hopefully we can package the appropriate footprint for future development to accommodate people’s desires.”

I agree wholeheartedly that the Holiday Inn Express will be great where it is located and having water access there makes it even more attractive.

I would be a little more cautious, however, about endorsing all water development – especially for lodging – without carefully considering and examining all the details.

Just this week as my wife and I rode our bikes through town on the city’s bi-path and especially from Bay View to Starlite Parks, we commented on the open views of the water and how the city had a nice balance going regarding that. Specifically, we said the demolition of the old Beach Motel really made a positive difference in that whole Starlite area.

Thus, I would be very hesitant and reluctant, for instance, to see any development in that area or just to the south of it, at Mich-e-ke-wis. Remember the discussions in the past of a possible motel in that area, or talk of a travel trailer park there?

At one point I would not have even had much of an open mind about development at Mich-e-ke-wis. Today I would listen, but it would take a lot to convince me to endorse any project without that project being spectacular.

That’s not to say, however, I am closed minded about all water development. At some places, in the right setting, I would be more easily convinced and the Thunder Bay River, from the dam to the bay, is one of those areas. I would, for instance, probably be very supportive of some type of solid development program taking place in the old Alpena Electric property. I think all of us would also like to see something done on the Alpena Marc, former Fletcher Paper Co. property. Remember Jeff Konczak’s original dream to construct a boardwalk/niche shopping area along the river?

Alpena is in a unique position of having different types of waterfront available right now, with each parcel probably better suited to certain types of development than others. And, when construction of the Holiday Inn Express begins, it probably will spur other development as well through that area.

Modern-day Alpena leaders I believe have done well in handling the waterfront our industrial forefathers left behind. With so much of early Alpena utilized for commercial purposes, there isn’t nearly the recreational property available here as there is in other communities.

Still, with every parcel that does exist, we always need to ask ourselves – “will development here complement, or corrupt the landscape?”

Sometimes it is those simple questions that are the hardest to answer. When dealing with the waterfront, it is important to get the answer correct the first time, as there is no opportunity to change the answer later.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13. Read his blog, More BS?(Bill Speer) at www.thealpenanews.com.