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A TCAPS, City Partnership?

A TCAPS, City Partnership?

May 4, 2015
A TCAPS, City Partnership?

A proposed $50 million public-private partnership between the city of Traverse City, Grand Traverse County and multiple developers in downtown TC could soon add the region’s largest school district to the mix.

Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) officials want to explore including the district’s administration building on Webster Street in the brownfield plan for the four-phase Park Place Hotel and Government Center redevelopment, which could bring a conference center, workforce housing, parking deck and two mixed-use buildings to downtown.

“Our building is right across the street, and it’s no secret it’s inefficient for us and has more square footage than we need,” says TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma. “It could, however, be a valuable asset for someone who wants to renovate it. Why not build it into the dialogue and see if there’s some way to connect with what’s happening in that area?”

Soma envisions a scenario in which TCAPS sells or swaps the three-story, 35,250 square-foot building in exchange for administrative offices elsewhere in the city, allowing the district to relocate “with no net outflow of dollars or expense to taxpayers.” TCAPS only needs 12,000-15,000 square feet of office space, Soma estimates, and its existing facility is saddled with failing energy and maintenance systems that have racked up an average $36,000 in annual utility costs for the district.

Grand Traverse County Deputy Director of Planning and Development Jean Derenzy – who is guiding developers through the public funding component of the project and plans to meet with Soma this week – says the administration building “absolutely” has market potential for redevelopment. “The zoning is there for mixed use…you could have some some light commercial or office space with some type of residential component to it,” she says. “I’m happy (TCAPS) reached out to let us know they’re looking at opportunities for us to work together.”

A TCAPS-city partnership could also extend to a second quadrant of the city. The school district owns nearly 14 acres of land in the Fourteenth Street corridor, including Thirlby Field, Glenn Loomis elementary school, a storage facility and an empty parcel on Thirteenth Street. At a recent meeting of a newly formed committee of TCAPS and city officials, discussion focused on ways to better utilize those properties to meet the objectives of the city’s Corridors Master Plan.

“We have long-term plans and drawings for Fourteenth Street beautification we’ve worked on with Central Neighborhood, creating a more park-like, attractive setting and aesthetically improving some of those entry ways and points along the corridor,” says Soma. “We’re also looking at things like whether there is a better use for that storage building, which is an eyesore….if we should move the softball fields…and whether, when we reconstruct Glenn Loomis, if we keep it at the same location or move it to a different spot. All of those discussions have the opportunity to partner with the city and look at how we can bring our two plans together.”

City Planning Director Russ Soyring says the entire Fourteenth Street corridor is “ripe for redevelopment,” but because the city doesn’t own property in that area, partners like TCAPS will be needed to make it happen. Soyring suggests that portions of TCAPS property that are “dead zones” much of the year could be converted into housing instead – a prospect echoed by Soma.

The planning director also supports involving the administration building in the city’s long-term plans across town. “That’s a gorgeous building and part of the history of TC,” he says. “It’d be great to see it reinvented for a new set of uses.”

While collaborative discussions are still in the conceptual stages, Derenzy believes a city-TCAPS partnership could eventually act as a grounding “foundation” for long-term redevelopment in those areas.

“When you’re talking about both corridors, it’s an opportunity for the school district and the city to have a huge impact,” she says. 

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