A New Hotel in an Old Building
A couple local hoteliers got the go-ahead at Tuesday night’s meeting of the city’s Planning Commission for what they hope will become another downtown must-see, must-stay, destination.
Named for the type of clientele the owners hope to attract, the future Explore Hotel will offer 16 traditional units, plus a few contemporary extras, like a virtual concierge. But the best part is the location… in the old College Laundry building on West Baraga. Pictured above, this classic sandstone relic is one of Marquette’s oldest… and apparently most durable structures. Records show it was built in 1880.
Good to see some young visionaries taking on this project, particularly the part about repurposing an existing structure rather than tearing it down and building new. It’s reminiscent of what was done with the Customs House, just down the street on Lakeshore Boulevard.
“For a couple Marquette guys, this project is about as exciting as it gets,” say owners Josh Paquette and Charlie Holsworth. “To watch the downtown transformed over the past several years to what it is today has been inspiring. We have a strong team and we are looking forward to getting the project underway.”
And I’m looking forward to what this will do for that stretch of Baraga Avenue. We’ve seen some positive transformation there in the past few years, and this will no doubt spur more interest. A while back, there was talk of a new cityscape for that block, but apparently the funds weren’t there. It’s a wide street, which lends itself to some creative placemaking. Maybe that can be put back on the table.
Meanwhile, the Explore Hotel is probably at least a year away. The interior, much of which was destroyed in a recent fire, will be gutted and replaced with boutique style accommodations. Closner Construction is handling that, and according to company president Jeff Goodney, they’re happy to be a part of the project. “Transforming an old historic building into a new space that the community can enjoy is amazing.”
Dax Richer of RG Design is also involved, bringing along his years of experience in bringing new life to older buildings. Can’t wait to see what he does with this one.
There are a few other vacant buildings around town that could also be repurposed, with the right vision. Maybe this project can serve as an inspiration for others.
Veterans on the move?
Even though it hasn’t been confirmed by the parties involved, word on the street is that the State of Michigan is looking to purchase the long-abandoned Cliffs-Dow property on Lakeshore Boulevard from the City of Marquette, and build a new facility there to replace the outdated D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans.
We already knew state authorities had decided the current facility on Fisher Street could no longer serve their needs, and were in search-mode for a new location. Provided the city and state can come to a sales agreement, and the site can be declared safe for our veterans’ new quarters, they may have found it. As hard as it is to identify available and appropriate property in the city, this seems like a winner.
But hold on. There are other factors that need to be taken into consideration. As there usually are. In this case, just like another property on Lakeshore Boulevard also owned by a non-profit, this new veterans’ home won’t be paying local property taxes. That’s a 30-acre spread, overlooking Lake Superior. I’m not a property tax expert, but for a city that’s trying to squeeze as much future revenue as it can out of its available inventory, that’s quite a concession.
Combine it with the 906 Adventure Team’s recent purchase of the property located between Stuga North Veterinary and Nestledown B&B… and that’s a fair amount of desirable land now in the hands of non-profits. To be sure, both properties have drawn interest from private investors.
But… a new home for veterans, with a view of the big lake? That’s a no-brainer… unless you’d prefer more condos and commercial development. And the 906 Adventure Team? That program impacts a bunch of our kids, in a good way, on bikes and in life. They’re going to have a bike park, in a perfect place for a bike park!
What both projects bring to the community make both deals worth it. We’ll call it a “quality-of-life” return on investment, which is frequently more valuable than a few more bucks in the city’s coffers.
We may be getting a little ahead of ourselves, since the veterans’ facility is not yet a done deal. The state still has to perform its due diligence, not the least of which is determining how much remediation is going to be required to ensure a healthy environment. Objections from the public include the aforementioned taxation issue, as well as the idea of moving vulnerable residents to a potentially hazardous location. That would be a deal-breaker.
City Manager Karen Kovacs understands the concerns. “The City recognizes the significant public interest served by a specialized skilled veterans nursing facility. We also recognize there is a strong need for economic development to diversify the tax base and increase revenue.”
Regarding the potential hurdles the project will face, Kovacs says, “We all know this property is complicated and there are a number of details to work through from both the City and State perspective. All these factors (and more) will be taken into consideration over the next few months before arriving at a final decision.”
Social District Coming to Marquette
Following Negaunee’s lead, the Marquette Downtown Development Authority is spearheading an effort to establish a “Social District” within the borders of their jurisdiction.
The DDA recently hosted two informational meetings at the downtown Commons with the intent to inform the public about the specifics of a Social District, as well as gather feedback from concerned citizens. For those unfamiliar with the Social District, it’s a designated area where alcoholic beverages can be consumed outside the confines of the bar or restaurant where the beverage was purchased. That’s the basic concept, but rest assured, the regulatory folks in Lansing have come up with more than a few do’s and don’ts we’ll all have to follow. If you want all the details, you can find them here: michigan.gov/social-districts.
Tara Laase-McKinney, DDA Executive Director, outlines the process. “The Social District question will be in front of the City Commission on March 27. If approved, it will be sent along to the MLCC for approval, which we expect to take a few weeks. Once fully approved, we plan on having a several-week application & education period prior to a formal opening of the Social District, so businesses who will participate in the Social District can apply, have all the necessary materials and education necessary, and so we can educate the public about the rules and responsibilities.”
They’re hoping to have the program in place by late May, when enjoying an ice cold beverage outside will be a little more palatable.