2017-03-23 / Front Page

City Looks to Next Steps for Waterfront

By Kevin R. Hess


As a route to Dock 3, Ferry Lane used to be bustling with people and business. Nowadays, it is lined with some homes, unused buildings, and rough road conditions. In the distance, visible offshore in Lake Huron is Mackinac Island. Planning Commission Chair Betsy Dayrell-Hart says the Ferry Lane corridor, down to Dock 3, is one area that is ready for redevelopment. Dr. Hart recently was given approval to seek certification for St. Ignace to be designated as a Redevelopment Ready Community by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The certification would make St. Ignace more attractive to developers, for businesses and housing. As a route to Dock 3, Ferry Lane used to be bustling with people and business. Nowadays, it is lined with some homes, unused buildings, and rough road conditions. In the distance, visible offshore in Lake Huron is Mackinac Island. Planning Commission Chair Betsy Dayrell-Hart says the Ferry Lane corridor, down to Dock 3, is one area that is ready for redevelopment. Dr. Hart recently was given approval to seek certification for St. Ignace to be designated as a Redevelopment Ready Community by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The certification would make St. Ignace more attractive to developers, for businesses and housing. Michigan has more shoreline than any state in the continental United States. Only Alaska has more. There are more than 80 small public harbors and marinas throughout the state. These harbors are critical to the state’s economy, with reported impacts from Great Lakes boating in the billions of dollars. At St. Ignace, planning is underway to consider future use of the waterfront, and a report shows that St. Ignace has many more strengths in this effort than it has weaknesses to overcome.


The intersection of Ferry Lane and US-2 is one that businesses and churches use by placing signs directing travelers to their places of business and worship. Signage throughout St. Ignace, downtown and on the edges of town, is an area that city officials are studying to see what is best and most attractive for St. Ignace. Seen in the foreground of the photograph is US-2, at the Ferry Lane intersection. The intersection of Ferry Lane and US-2 is one that businesses and churches use by placing signs directing travelers to their places of business and worship. Signage throughout St. Ignace, downtown and on the edges of town, is an area that city officials are studying to see what is best and most attractive for St. Ignace. Seen in the foreground of the photograph is US-2, at the Ferry Lane intersection. A combination of lower water levels over the last decade and severe financial restraints has resulted in strained local economies for marina towns. State and federal funding for public harbors maintenance has become increasingly limited. Public harbors are now required to develop five-year master plans to receive financial support from the Waterways Commission of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Research was needed to help communities develop, improve, and sustain their harbors.


The marina is seeking ways to upgrade its facilities and make it more attractive to boaters. Some improvements are already happening, such as an upgrade of the marina’s Wi-Fi signal, and being more active on social media sites. They are also looking to add another sewage pump-out station and to seek Clean Marina certification through Michigan Sea Grant. Participants in the Clean Marina Program voluntarily pledge to maintain and improve their waterways by reducing or eliminating releases of harmful substances and phasing out practices that can damage aquatic environments. More than 50 marinas have been awarded certification. The St. Ignace Marina has begun the process. Earning Clean Marina status would reduce insurance and waste disposal costs, reduce pollution and improve water quality, protect the fish and wildlife habitat, and enhance the public image of the marina, attracting more boaters to the area. Marina Director Mike Singleton says boaters seek out the marinas that have this certification because they know the marinas are being cared for properly. The marina is seeking ways to upgrade its facilities and make it more attractive to boaters. Some improvements are already happening, such as an upgrade of the marina’s Wi-Fi signal, and being more active on social media sites. They are also looking to add another sewage pump-out station and to seek Clean Marina certification through Michigan Sea Grant. Participants in the Clean Marina Program voluntarily pledge to maintain and improve their waterways by reducing or eliminating releases of harmful substances and phasing out practices that can damage aquatic environments. More than 50 marinas have been awarded certification. The St. Ignace Marina has begun the process. Earning Clean Marina status would reduce insurance and waste disposal costs, reduce pollution and improve water quality, protect the fish and wildlife habitat, and enhance the public image of the marina, attracting more boaters to the area. Marina Director Mike Singleton says boaters seek out the marinas that have this certification because they know the marinas are being cared for properly. The Sustainable Small Harbor Management Strategy project was created to help small harbors become economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. Au Gres, New Baltimore, Ontonogan, and Pentwater were selected as research communities. A strategic guidebook was developed based upon those communities and research was conducted. St. Ignace and Rogers City were then chosen as “proof of concept” communities for implementing and revising the guidebook.


Dock 3 has been highlighted by St. Ignace citizens as an area that could be more developed. On the waterfront with a view of Mackinac Island, it features a park and picnic pavilion, with a playground nearby. As part of a community-visioning meeting held in partnership with Michigan Sea Grant and Lawrence Technological University, citizens and city officials brainstormed together to highlight strengths and weaknesses, assets and barriers to growth in St. Ignace. The Small Harbor Sustainability Project chose St. Ignace as a “proof of concept” city to test a guidebook they created with strategies to improve economic, social, and environmental sustainability of Michigan’s harbor communities. Dock 3 has been highlighted by St. Ignace citizens as an area that could be more developed. On the waterfront with a view of Mackinac Island, it features a park and picnic pavilion, with a playground nearby. As part of a community-visioning meeting held in partnership with Michigan Sea Grant and Lawrence Technological University, citizens and city officials brainstormed together to highlight strengths and weaknesses, assets and barriers to growth in St. Ignace. The Small Harbor Sustainability Project chose St. Ignace as a “proof of concept” city to test a guidebook they created with strategies to improve economic, social, and environmental sustainability of Michigan’s harbor communities. In October, a facilitated community visioning meeting was held at the St. Ignace Public Library to discuss the future of the St. Ignace waterfront. More than 20 community members were present. During the meeting, participants discussed the assets and weaknesses of St. Ignace, and the barriers to growth. Then, January 24, Don Carpenter, engineering professor at Lawrence Technological University, and Amy Samples, Coastal Resilience Specialist with Michigan Sea Grant, returned to St. Ignace to deliver the final report from the visioning meeting, and to seek feedback of the process.


Ferry Lane is considered a prime area for St. Ignace to redevelop. It already has several businesses in the area, as well as the St. Ignace Hope Chest and Food Pantry. Mayor Connie Litzner says that mindsets need to change about what development is. “We can’t change without new development. We need people with vision for what could be,” she said. Here, at the intersection of Ferry Lane and Bertrand Street, George’s Body Shop can be seen. George’s recently relocated from their downtown location, renovating the former Do-It-Center building across from Fred’s Pub and Gateway Lanes. Ferry Lane is considered a prime area for St. Ignace to redevelop. It already has several businesses in the area, as well as the St. Ignace Hope Chest and Food Pantry. Mayor Connie Litzner says that mindsets need to change about what development is. “We can’t change without new development. We need people with vision for what could be,” she said. Here, at the intersection of Ferry Lane and Bertrand Street, George’s Body Shop can be seen. George’s recently relocated from their downtown location, renovating the former Do-It-Center building across from Fred’s Pub and Gateway Lanes. 
During a community visioning meeting and in subsequent discussions, Dock 3 is mentioned as one area along the waterfront that could be more developed. The City of St. Ignace is developing a new master plan and is researching areas where improvements can be made. During a community visioning meeting and in subsequent discussions, Dock 3 is mentioned as one area along the waterfront that could be more developed. The City of St. Ignace is developing a new master plan and is researching areas where improvements can be made. The final report indicated that there were many more assets in St. Ignace than weaknesses or barriers, but also highlighted where community members felt improvements could be made. Among the weaknesses mentioned were lack of quality, affordable housing, the seasonality of a tourist town, and poor roads. Lack of jobs and perceived inflexible attitudes of residents to change were mentioned as barriers to growth. The assets highlighted were the marina, boardwalk, the connection to Mackinac Island, and St. Ignace’s waterfront location. When asked to share their vision of St. Ignace in the future, participants listed establishing bike paths, more affordable housing, and year-around businesses, among others.

Deb Evashevski, director of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), says that improvements have been underway for about 20 years, and more can be done.

“Some things are already in place,” she said, “but many aren’t aware because we live here and can become immune to them.”

She pointed out each of the downtown parks, saying, “20 years ago, they were ugly, undeveloped land, but now we’ve beautified those areas.”

The Marina Is a Waterfront Centerpiece

The key to improving the waterfront, says Mr. Carpenter, is leveraging the assets that already exist. When asked to list them, the number one asset mentioned was the marina. Current Harbor Marina Director Mike Singleton and former harbormaster Clyde Hart went to work after the visioning meeting, doing research and making contacts to see how and where improvements could be made.

“We were marina-centric in our thinking,” Mr. Hart said, “but we realized there is far more potential on the waterfront than just the marina.”

Mr. Singleton and Mr. Hart looked into every resource provided by the guidebook and made notes of what was and was not beneficial or applicable for St. Ignace. One of the first steps Mr. Singleton took was to seek “Clean Marina” status. Marinas that participate in the Michigan Clean Marina Program voluntarily pledge to maintain and improve their waterways by reducing or eliminating releases of harmful substances and phasing out practices that can damage aquatic environments. Since the program began in 2005, more than 50 marinas have been awarded certification.

To receive certification, marinas complete a 10-step process, which includes training, a self-evaluation checklist, and a site visit. Certified marinas can benefit financially in several ways. Clean marinas will spend less in waste disposal costs, and may be eligible for credits that could lower insurance costs. According to Michigan Sea Grant, Clean Marinas have been able to charge slightly higher slip fees and have fewer vacancies than others. The certification will also enhance the public image of the marina. Every Clean Marina is highlighted in the Michigan Boating Industries publications, and the Clean Marina Web site includes links to marina Web sites as well as a map and GPS coordinates to locate each facility. Each Clean Marina is given a flag to fly at their facility, making it easy for boaters to recognize.

In talking with boaters, Mr. Singleton said many of them look for the Clean Marina flag.

“They want to use marinas they know are being properly cared for,” he said.

The St. Ignace Marina has not yet been certified, but the process has begun.

“It has to go before city council, but we’re probably about a year out,” said Mr. Singleton. “Grants would cover a percentage of the cost, but not all of it. We need to see what it could cost the city.”

The marina has already begun to make improvements, including an upgrade of the Wi-Fi signal.

“Many business-minded people still want to be able to access emails and business sites,” he said. “Literally the only complaint we received online last year was our weak Wi-Fi signal.”

The marina plans to add another pump-out, or sewage tank, and he is also becoming more active on social media sites that many boaters visit to find information and feedback on marinas.

“Online is how most people get their information now. Promoting the marina through these sites will help draw more boaters to St. Ignace,” he said.

Capitalize on the Popularity Of Paddle Sports

Another improvement that can be made on the waterfront is the addition of water trail paddleboat launches. There is a water trail that begins in St. Ignace and runs through Hessel, Cedarville, and out to Drummond Island. Water trail launches could attract more kayakers and canoes to the area. Hessel, Cedarville, and Drummond Island already have these.

“Paddleboats are the fastest growing maritime activity,” said Mr. Hart.

One of the things that might keep paddlers away, they say, is the presence of the Mackinac Island ferries and a lack of a “no wake” zone. During the city council meeting February 20, Mr. Singleton discussed the need for a watercraft control ordinance. The ordinance would create “no wake” zones, encouraging paddlers to come into the area who may have previously avoided it due to fast moving boats.

“The Island has twice the ferry traffic, and they make it work,” he said.

“We’ve already had discussions with the ferry companies,” added Mr. Singleton, “and they are willing to work with us.”

Development Is Key to Progress

Another step in improving the waterfront is St. Ignace’s certification as a “Redevelopment Ready Community” through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Planning Commission Chair Betsy Dayrell-Hart was given approval at the March 6 city council meeting to pursue this certification. The certification would attract more developers to the area by placing the city’s ordinances online, along with its master plan. This would make it easier for developers to see what is available, what the ordinances are, what the costs would be, and to attain all the necessary permits. The certification begins with a self-assessment, which answers the questions of where the city is now and where it wants to go in the future.

“The assessment points out things we may not have seen before,” said Dr. Dayrell-Hart.

One of the prime areas for redevelopment, she says, is the Ferry Lane corridor down to Dock 3.

“We need housing and business development. That area used to be much more utilized. It is more amenable for development right now,” she said. “We can’t see the changes we want without new development.”

Mayor Connie Litzner agrees.

“We need to develop more at the places where boats come into the area,” she said. “Much of that, though, is private property.”

One of the concerns, says Mayor Litzner, is perception of what would be developed.

“We need to change our mind-set of what a developer is,” she said. “I think people think we’re going to build high-rises and other things that they believe will take away from the beauty of our area.”

City leaders have studied other towns, such as Charlevoix and Marquette, who have dealt with the same issues.

“Charlevoix was in the same boat 35 years ago that we are now,” said Mayor Litzner. “They’ve done a great job redeveloping their town. Marquette has done the same.”

One key aspect moving forward will be keeping community members engaged.

“The visioning meeting created momentum; now we need to keep meeting and get more people on board,” said Mr. Singleton.

“We need people to participate in the planning,” said Mr. Hart. “If you want your voice heard, you’ve got to speak up.”

“We need people with vision,” said Mayor Litzner.

There will be several open meetings for the public to attend.

Dr. Dayrell-Hart adds, “Some may feel that their opinion does not matter, but it truly does.”

One simple way she proposes St. Ignace could improve its waterfront is through volunteer service projects, and a community-wide spring-cleaning day.

“We have a great volunteer community,” she said. “We could have community or church groups adopt a section of the boardwalk that they commit to keeping clean and looking nice.”

“When people take ownership, they invest more,” said Mayor Litzner.

While the research aspect has come to a close, Michigan Sea Grant hopes to stay connected with the various cities.

“We’re still trying to figure out how we can best facilitate a relationship between ourselves and these communities,” said Mrs. Samples. “There is a perception sometimes that we come in, do our thing, and leave, but we want to stay connected.”

Federal Budget Concerns Arise

A recent budget proposal by the new presidential administration, however, threatens to eliminate Michigan Sea Grant and all of its federal funding. The president’s fiscal year 2017 budget was released and targets the National Sea Grant College Program for elimination of federal funding. Michigan Sea Grant is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant programs administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.)

The budget, which zeroes out more than $250 million in targeted NOAA grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education, specifically mentions Sea Grant. Michigan Sea Grant receives roughly $1.8 million annually from the federal government. The largest portion of that budget goes toward working directly with coastal communities. Michigan Sea Grant Extension educators live and work in coastal communities to ensure that university research meets community needs. Until a definitive decision is made, Michigan Sea Grant will continue to work with small harbor communities.

Michigan Sea Grant has a director based in Sault Ste. Marie for the Eastern Upper Peninsula. Elliot Nelson was hired in May 2016 and his role is to continue the mission of Sea Grant to the local communities of the EUP. He says he can be a resource to the communities with grants, by offering letters of support, or helping to write the grants. The onus is on the communities to stay connected and seek help if needed.

“If a grant opportunity arises, or projects are ready to move forward,” he said, “I am fully ready to help support them in whatever way I can.”

If the president’s budget is approved, many, if not all, of Michigan Sea Grant’s employees would likely lose their jobs and the federal grant would no longer be available.

One of the factors for this proposed elimination is that Michigan Sea Grant is not a federally authorized organization. Authorization gives agencies the legal authority to fund and operate its programs. Jim Diana, director of Michigan Sea Grant, is optimistic that they will avoid being eliminated.

“I’ve spoken with several congressional members that are on our side,” he said. “We are moving forward on a bill to re-authorize Michigan Sea Grant.”

They will also begin a letterwriting campaign, reaching out to small harbor communities to submit letters of support for Michigan Sea Grant.

“As long as Sea Grant is around,” Mr. Diana said, “we intend to stay connected to our small harbor communities.”

Other Resources To Envision St. Ignace Waterfront

The city of St. Ignace can also tap into the Mackinac County Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) resources. One such resource is a program called the Sustainable Built Environment Initiative (SBEI), formerly known as the Small Town Design Initiative. If community leaders have decided there is a place in the community that is underperforming from a sense of pace or sus- tainability, the SBEI is a community visioning process whereby diverse community stakeholders are brought together with designers from MSU to craft a consensus vision for the future. The process is very visual and allows community members to see the desired future state of a key place in the community.

“Many people are visual learners,” said Mayor Litzner. “The mock-ups that are created by the SBEI help people to see the potential of St. Ignace.”

The city will be creating placemaking surveys and putting them all around town, as well as participating in job fairs and the upcoming St. Ignace Home Show. The goal, they say, is to get feedback and ideas from as many people as possible.

“It’s everyone working together,” the mayor said, “that will make St. Ignace everything it can and should be.”

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