2016-11-03 / Front Page

Citizens Share Vision of St. Ignace

Redeveloping Dock 3, Ferry Lane, North End Shoreline Among Future Ideas Proposed
By Stephanie Fortino

About 20 members of the community shared their visions for St. Ignace during the Sustainable Small Harbor Management Strategy meeting hosted by Michigan Sea Grant Monday, October 24. A more robust economy with diverse industries, adequate housing options to suit the needs of the community, and development of the waterfront downtown and Dock 3 area were among the suggestions. The water along American Legion Park (as shown from South State Street Sunday, October 30) could be used to moor recreational vessels, enhancing the vistas of Lake Huron, and a new water taxi service would bring boaters into town. About 20 members of the community shared their visions for St. Ignace during the Sustainable Small Harbor Management Strategy meeting hosted by Michigan Sea Grant Monday, October 24. A more robust economy with diverse industries, adequate housing options to suit the needs of the community, and development of the waterfront downtown and Dock 3 area were among the suggestions. The water along American Legion Park (as shown from South State Street Sunday, October 30) could be used to moor recreational vessels, enhancing the vistas of Lake Huron, and a new water taxi service would bring boaters into town. In 20 years, St. Ignace could have a robust economy outfitted with a variety of industries, adequate housing, and thriving education, arts, and cultural facilities. Much of the prosperity would find its genesis in the waterfront here, which has beckoned residents and visitors for centuries. And while the community has many barriers to growth, it boasts many more elements that make it attractive and give it promise.

This is the vision of nearly 20 citizens who met October 24 at the library.

They took a look at St. Ignace today, listed its attractions and restrictions, and talked about how to get from here to tomorrow. While their vision grew upon many of the community’s assets, participants were free to disregard the barriers to growth that they had identified earlier in the day.

Fostering a vibrant downtown and waterfront and redeveloping the Dock 3 area and properties along Ferry Lane were among developments envisioned for St. Ignace.

A boat building school, sailing school, light industry complex at the Mill Slip, fish market at the Favorite Dock, and a downtown coffee shop and Internet café where proposed.

Improved opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and small boating could be enhanced by using the area from the Mill Slip to Horseshoe Bay.

Parking for ferries would be moved away from the lakefront, and shuttles would carry tourists from their cars to the ferry docks. The waterfront of St. Ignace would be developed with restaurants and mixed-use buildings, but views of the lake would be maintained.

Installing a boat mooring and anchoring area at American Legion Park would draw boaters and enhance the lake view coming into town from US-2. A water taxi would take boaters from the mooring area into town and to a public dinghy dock. Commercial boating and docking would be increased in general.

At Dock 3, the city and state highway facilities would be moved elsewhere. One idea for a new use is a maritime museum and hotels for water recreationists.

Drawing Great Lakes cruise ships to St. Ignace was another common theme, and getting them to moor at Dock 3 would open possibilities for that section of town. The area could become a cultural hub outfitted with a theater complex, or a commercial district. And to overcome some challenges posed by seasonality and state land requirements, a seasonal commercial district filled with temporary food trucks and pop-up commercial stores was suggested.

Property along Ferry Lane could be developed into the “Ferry Lane Business Corridor,” which would include businesses and hotels for water recreationists.

An expanded bike lane network would also be added in St. Ignace, linking Straits State Park through downtown and to Little Bear East Arena, incorporating the old railroad grade.

Bike trails, trolleys, and affordable public transportation were all among the visions for St. Ignace. Interactive kiosks and free Wi-Fi downtown were suggested, as were a variety of third places for young people to gather.

Also envisioned were adequate and attractive housing in the city with good views available to a variety of price ranges for residents and seasonal employees, and successful redevelopment of the museum at the Father Marquette National Memorial.

Other suggestions were for more educational opportunities, including technical training, boatbuilding and sailing schools, and culinary schools. Enhanced transportation would be another improvement.

Most agreed that in 20 years, St. Ignace would ideally be marked by diverse and thriving businesses, different forms of housing for people to choose from, and widespread Internet access for residents.

Envisioning A Future

The ideas culminated an afternoon of discussions and strategizing, with participants breaking into groups to collect thoughts about growth and development in St. Ignace as part of Michigan Sea Grant’s Sustainable Small Harbor Management Strategy project.

The meeting was open to all. Those who attended the meeting represented a cross section of the St. Ignace community, including concerned residents like David and Sandy Schmidt and Roberta and Gary Adams, who enjoy the beauty of the waterfront, Ruth Eby of Castle Rock, and Tom Cronan, who recently moved back to St. Ignace. Also attending were many members of the St. Ignace Planning Commission, including chair Betsy Dayrell- Hart, and members Rick Perry and Mike Lilliquist. Eric Wedesky of EUP Regional Planning, who is helping the city update its master plan, also attended. Real estate agent Cheryl Schlehuber, Jim Nash of Brevort Lake, the new secretary at the Mackinac County MSU Extension office, Dick Sterk of Mackinac Economic Alliance, and Julie Gardener, the Upper Peninsula representative from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, were among the other attendees.

The local project is being led by former St. Ignace harbormaster Clyde Hart. He and Downtown Development Director Deb Evashevski were the only city staffers, or former staffers, who stayed for the whole three-hour meeting. No elected officials from the St. Ignace City Council attended.

Don Carpenter of Lawrence Technological University led the vision session and explained that the Small Harbor Community project is about three kinds of sustainability. In addition to being environmentally sustainable, the project will help communities plan how to be socially and economically sustainable.

More than 80 small harbor communities like St. Ignace exist throughout Michigan about every 40 to 50 miles along the shoreline, Mr. Carpenter said. Now that there is an overall decline in boating, the state has decided to help bolster these communities and ensure their continued viability. Helping communities with placemaking, which is the creation of high-quality areas where people want to live, work, and visit, is a main tenet of the program. And as part of placemaking, Mr. Carpenter said, walkability and fostering mixed-use areas with amenities and professional networks should be encouraged.

Michigan Sea Grant has developed a guidebook, which is available online at www.miseagrant.umich.edu/smallharborsustainability, that will help St. Ignace and other communities toward sustainability. The guidebook was developed last year after three other communities were studied. This year, St. Ignace and Rogers City were chosen to test the guidebook. The vision-planning meeting in St. Ignace was one part of the program. The other part, which St. Ignace opted not to take part in, includes a three-day design charrette and a final project overview, which were done in Rogers City.

Mr. Carpenter said the program seeks to determine the key barriers to small harbor economic, social, and environmental sustainability and the tools that would help small harbor managers create more stability.

Like all small communities, there is a slow and steady population decline in St. Ignace, Mr. Carpenter said. From 1990 to 2000, the population fell 2.9%, and from 2000 to 2010, the population fell another 8.4% to 2,452.

What Draws Boaters and People to St. Ignace?

The group described their perceptions of the strengths, weaknesses, and barriers to St. Ignace before discussing their visions for the future.

The first question posed was, “What brings boaters, businesses, residents, and visitors to St. Ignace?”

The water and natural beauty of St. Ignace were among the most common answers. St. Ignace is also a gateway community, both to Mackinac Island via its ferry docks and to the Upper Peninsula via the Mackinac Bridge, which attracts visitors.

The St. Ignace Municipal Marina, all of East Moran Bay, and the liftout services available for large boats at the Mill Slip draw business, visitors, and boaters. Events at the marina and in St. Ignace, including the St. Ignace Car Show, art fairs, Fish Feast and Music Fest, bridge crossing rallies, road races, Bayside Live, farmers market, and summer fireworks, also draw people and business to town. St. Ignace also has two boat launching sites and a travel lift at the Mill Slip that brings boaters to the area.

Cultural and historical attractions, such as the city’s Museum of Ojibwa Culture and the Michilimackinac Historical Society’s Fort DeBaude museum are additional St. Ignace assets. If redeveloped, the burned-down museum at the state-operated Father Marquette National Memorial would be another draw.

The boardwalk, lakeside parks, and views of Lake Huron and the public access to water are other advantages of St. Ignace. Recreational facilities like Little Bear East Arena bring in many visitors.

The local Native American tribes, through their culture and community resources, are another strength of St. Ignace, as are the services of Mackinac Straits Hospital.

The people of St. Ignace and their friendliness and openness are another draw.

What Are St. Ignace’s Weaknesses and Barriers to Growth?

Aspects of the sluggish economy in St. Ignace were named as ways the community is weak. Several people said that the limited year-around industry and lack of economic diversity is an underlying weakness. St. Ignace also has a small tax base, small workforce, and high seasonal unemployment, further hindering growth.

The housing market, with its lack of housing in all areas, for low-income, high-income, renters, and employees, is another drawback.

A lack of higher education here, a decreasing population, fewer students in school, and fewer young families are other issues holding the community back.

The difficulty of navigating downtown St. Ignace on foot or with a wheelchair or baby stroller poses other challenges is compounded by the difficulty of crossing thee or four lanes of traffic and the disjointed layout of State Street with its inconsistent sidewalks.

There are underused areas of town that could be enhanced to help create a better sense of place. Not only are Ferry Lane and Dock 3 underdeveloped, but the area is disconnected from downtown. The state and city garages are situated on some of the nicest lakefront property in town, and the playground near Dock 3 is isolated; people generally only know about it if they’re familiar with the city.

Another thing holding St. Ignace back is the competition and lack of relationship with Mackinaw City, and a perception that the city could be more active in promoting the community and fostering development.

While crossing the Mackinac Bridge is a draw to St. Ignace, the city’s location to the east is also a weakness, as travelers head west across the peninsula.

A shortage of diverse, popular places outside work where young people can gather is another weakness.

The groups also discussed barriers to having a sustainable community, which are similar to weaknesses.

The underlying barrier to the sustainability of St. Ignace is the lack of financing, resources, and investment.

The lack of widespread broadband Internet access, especially fiber optics in residences, is a barrier to drawing home-based businesses, young people, and diversified industry to St. Ignace.

While the St. Ignace community is friendly, there is a distrust of outsiders among some that is a barrier to growth.

The stretched layout of St. Ignace along the shore, expansive parking lots for ferry companies, and an isolated Dock 3 area are all barriers to a sustainable community. The city also lacks a tight downtown core, which would foster a vibrant economy and would draw young people to live downtown.

While the Mackinac Bridge is a great draw for people to our area, some people are afraid to cross it and some don’t want to pay the toll to cross it, so it can also be a barrier.

The small tax base, high cost of living, and lack of vision planning at the city and county levels are all barriers, some citizens said, and other barriers to a sustainable community include the old and abandoned buildings downtown and traffic flow issues.

The area’s short business season and acceptance of seasonality is another barrier, precluding, in some cases, better development of winter tourism.

There is also a resistance to growth and development among some residents.

An outdated zoning ordinance that doesn’t allow for certain land uses is another barrier cited, and the lack of widespread regional vision planning with the surrounding townships is yet another.

What’s Next for the Project?

There are four main characteristics that help make communities attractive places to visit, Mr. Carpenter said. They have to be accessible, connected, diverse, and welcoming to be most effective. With these principals in mind, the project team will synthesize the public input gathered at the session over the coming weeks. Once the information is compiled, Mr. Carpenter and his team will present it to the city, likely after the holidays. At that time, the team will share with the city how best to use the information that was gathered.

“This should be used to inform a new master plan that focuses on a sustainable waterfront,” Mr. Carpenter said.

Following the visioning meeting, there are two more phases of the project to complete. Mr. Hart, harbormaster

Michael Singleton, and the city will evaluate the marina’s finances. The group will also consider ways to increase value, including grant opportunities and other economic modeling.

The final phase of the project is implementing the sustainable harbor community plan. The city will be responsible for establishing an implementation committee of public and private individuals. The team will be responsible for coordinating the new waterfront plans with the city master plan and DDA plan. That committee will be responsible for applying for grants and other funding, contacting economic development agencies, creating a list of contacts for implementing the new waterfront plan, and fostering a network of support agencies at the state to get projects done.

For those who couldn’t attend the meeting and who still want to provide their input on the future of St. Ignace, they should contact representatives from the city, including Clyde Hart, Downtown Development director Deb Evashevski, or city manager Les Therrian. Input on the tools and framework of the Small Harbor Community project can be addressed to Don Carpenter at carpenter@ltu.edu.

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