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Snow-Free Downtown TC?

Snow-Free Downtown TC?

January 19, 2015
Snow-Free Downtown TC?

Could downtown Traverse City sidewalks someday be completely snow-free all winter?

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board has expressed support for splitting costs with downtown property owners to install sidewalk snowmelt systems throughout the district. At a meeting Friday, the board reviewed a proposal from the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) to install a Hollywood-style Walk of Fame this spring in front of the theater, featuring cement handprints from past celebrity guests like Madonna and Susan Sarandon.

The proposal also calls for installing a heated sidewalk system stretching from Horizon Books to Backcountry Outfitters. “We regularly hear from our patrons at the State about their battles to find a clear path from the parking deck to the theater during the winter,” TCFF Executive Director Deb Lake wrote to the DDA board, “a problem that is exacerbated by the fact the Chase Bank is closed on the weekend and is thus rarely clear at those times.” Lake requested financial assistance from the DDA to cover half of the snowmelt system's cost – roughly $18,000.

DDA board members quickly warmed to the idea of snow-free sidewalks not only in front of the stores covered by TCFF's proposal, but throughout downtown Traverse City. “We can't do it for just one section or one business owner,” said Mayor Michael Estes of splitting snowmelt costs. “We have to make it a policy the entire downtown can take advantage of.”

The DDA already has a special assessment district in place for sidewalk and streetscape improvements, splitting costs fifty-fifty with property owners for projects in those categories, but it does not cover snowmelt. The board could amend the district to include those snowmelt systems, says DDA Executive Director Rob Bacigalupi. “It would not be a requirement, but if property owners were willing and interested in paying the additional costs, then we would (chip in),” he explained to board members.

At least 51 percent of property owners in a given area – e.g., the 100 block of Front Street – would have to sign off for such a system to be installed. The entire area would then be assessed for half the project's cost, plus annual fuel and maintenance expenses.

Many DDA board members and business owners see widespread snowmelt infrastructure as a more consistent way to provide clear and accessible sidewalks downtown versus the existing patchwork of snow removal services – including merchant shoveling and city plowing – that frequently leaves some areas piled with snow and ice while others are clear.

“Every sidewalk downtown should have it,” Keen Technical Solutions President Tim Pulliam tells The Ticker. Pulliam owns the building on Front and Cass that's home to The Franklin restaurant. “We make sure our sidewalks are scraped clean down to the cement...but not everyone does. We're willing to support (a snowmelt system) financially. It needs to happen.”

Golden Shoes owner and DDA board member Bill Golden also pointed out Friday that “economies of scale” means it would be more efficient to install snowmelt throughout an entire downtown block at once than tackling just a stretch at a time. “You can't piecemeal it,” he said. “If you're going to do it, you're going to do it.”

In a city that has snow on its sidewalks up to six months a year, Estes sees the benefits of keeping them clear – providing access for those with mobility challenges, increasing downtown's appeal to shoppers, and reducing plowing costs and decreasing city liability for injuries.

“Every one of us has had trouble navigating city sidewalks at some point,” he says. “In a community that desires to walk as much as we do...there is an obvious public benefit to having clear sidewalks all year."

Posted: Monday, January 19, 2015 11:59 AM by Jon Becker

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