IT WAS JUST A WEEK AGO that Word on the Street reported about a proposal to put a storage facility for human-powered boats at the former Shiras Power Plant property, adjacent to South Beach, on South Lake Street.
Little did I know at the time of the potential opposition to such a project.
Unbeknownst to me, there’s a Facebook group called “Save Marquette’s South Beach.” On its face, that sounds like a pretty worthy objective. South Beach is one of our more popular sandy gateways to Lake Superior. It’s free, open to the public, offers plenty of parking, and boasts a long stretch of beach that provides plenty of space for the whole gang, and their toys.
The proposal to build a storage facility was made by UP Rowing, a group of close to a hundred citizens who have been trying for years to identify a beachfront location to safely store their boats during the summer. The Board of Light and Power has indicated they’re open to suggestions for re-use of the power plant property, and with that, the rowers saw an opportunity to finally establish a stable home base, on a spot next to, but not on, South Beach.
Well, as it turns out, the “Save Marquette’s South Beach” folks see the idea to put up a storage building this close to South Beach as a threat to the park’s integrity. And this isn’t the first time the “save” group has done battle with the rowers. It was back in 2015 when the UP Rowing club, seen above, tried to build a facility at the Founder’s Landing beach, the small stretch of sandy area just south of the Hampton Inn.
Swimmers and sun worshipers use that area for beach access to Lake Superior, so there was concern the boathouse would take away from the beach and serve a limited segment of our citizenry.
Additionally, the city would have been permitting a private entity to build something on city property. That should always raise a red flag, but shouldn’t the city, when it can, help residents facilitate their outdoor fun? Isn’t that why we live here? Despite the opposition, the project was actually given the go-ahead, but the costs of building on the beach proved too heavy of a lift for the club.
Fast forward to last month’s BLP meeting where the club presented a new idea to use a portion of the abandoned property for their storage facility. They’re asking to use a small area at the south end for their modest structure. You can read all about that in last week’s Word on the Street.
Without delving into the history of the dispute, this seems to be a reasonable proposition without obvious objection. The club is going to pay for it, maintain it, and make it open to the public. And, if it has any impact on South Beach at all, it’ll be very little. At least that’s what it looks like from here.
Not So Fast
If only it were so easy. The “Save Marquette’s South Beach” group took little time to oppose the plan. According to their Facebook page, they have some 371 followers. I don’t know if they all share the same viewpoint, but here’s their stated position, taken from Facebook:
“Well, 10 years after their failed attempt to take over Marquette’s Founders Landing Beach — a City Park — the private Marquette Rowing Club has their sights set on Marquette’s South Beach Park, where they propose to build their latest version of a private boathouse. It looks like they’ve transitioned from a Bunker on the Beach to Shipping Containers on the Beach, which are certain to be popular among citizens and tourists alike.
“Keep an eye on this latest effort, and once fully-informed, consider helping the Marquette Board of Light and Power (MBLP) with their decision on whether this project is in the best interest of the city’s hardworking taxpayers, or the members of the private Rowing Club, which includes some of the most wealthy and powerful in the region.”
Who among us doesn’t want our beaches protected at all costs? The mere mention of lakefront development creates a stir worthy of a Margaret Brumm-like insurrection. (That will be the only Margaret Brumm reference in this post.) Yes, we want our lakefront protected and we want South Beach to be there for current and future generations. The question is, “Would a boat storage facility on the BLP property breach that covenant?”
Every proposal for development in this community has to be judged on its own merit as well as its value to residents, without regard for personality. Yeah… that’s involved here too. The “savers” have used such descriptions as “private club,” “multi-millionaire doctor,” “elitist special interests,” and “people who barely live here” to describe UP Rowing and its members. The tone is reminiscent of some of the give and take we’ve seen during MSHS nickname issue.
More to the Story
Which brings me to the bigger issue. Is the opposition to the boat storage structure, which isn’t even proposed to be on the South Beach property, solely based on the indisputable protection of a treasured city park? Or is it that a group of people who may or may not have been born in Marquette and happen to have a certain level of influence around here are the ones proposing the change?
Me thinks it is the latter. And it’s hard not to draw a correlation between this issue and the aforementioned MSHS nickname issue. There seems to be a divide here between Marquette lifers, and those who were born elsewhere but have made the deliberate decision to make Marquette their home. It’s those who embrace change versus those who lament the fact this isn’t the same town they grew up in.
No, it isn’t. It’s not the same town. Change happens, and admittedly, it’s not always for the better. But it’s inevitable. Towns either adapt to change or they die.
There’s nothing wrong with challenging change, but it’s only beneficial when it’s rooted in prudence rather than personality. Ad hominem attacks on change leaders because they work at Northern or enjoy perceived “elitist” pursuits are unfair and counterproductive. Equally unfair are ad hominem attacks on those who like things the way they are.
Let’s keep the dialog going, but be reasonable in our opposing viewpoints. The UP Rowing club, which is open to anyone who would like to join, wants to build a modest structure on BLP land to safely and securely store their boats. They want to better facilitate access to the lake to the benefit of their members and the public. If there’s an obvious reason to oppose this plan, I haven’t seen it. The Board of Light and Power may know something I don’t, but until then, I’ll be satisfied to let them decide if it’s good use of their property.