Marquette Township has been flexing its municipal muscles lately with an impressive influx of both commercial and residential expansion. New businesses and new housing developments are in the works, with more likely on the way. That sure seems like a good thing, though it probably doesn’t please everybody. We get it. You like it the way it is. Or better yet, the way it was. Sorry. Things grow or they die.
And Marquette Township is growing. Of the 22 Marquette County municipalities, Marquette Township experienced the greatest growth in population between 2010 and 2020.
But with growth, you get the related challenges. The Marquette Township Board, along with a modest staff, is trying to keep up. At their work session earlier this week, board members went over those challenges and how they need to be mindful of the future, and not just the present. Unfortunately, big picture stuff, including strategic and creative planning, often gets put on the back burner when policy makers also have to handle the nuts and bolts of running a small, but growing community.
The township board operates a little differently than their counterparts on the Marquette City Commission. Township board members are obligated, by state regulations, to do much of the work that would typically be done by staff if it were in the city. Things like, keeping the books. That might have worked back in the day, when the township’s business district was little more than a family-run dairy and a couple motels on the highway, but there’s way too much happening up the hill these days to go at it with outdated processes. The current board seems conscientious and committed, but they’ve got their hands full.
There was also a Planning Commission meeting this week where a couple new business ventures were given the go-ahead. The already rumored Panera Bread and Texas Roadhouse projects were approved, although Texas Roadhouse was not referred to by name, by township staff, or the project’s presenters. As noted in a previous column here, the word on the street is that it’s going to be a Texas Roadhouse. The only interesting thing at this point is if it turns out to be something else. There is also going to be a retail element as part of the project, which is happening on the vacant property just to the east of Fraco.
It was pointed out by Planning Administrator Jason McCarthy (seen above explaining the site plan) that the current Fraco entrance will be shared with the new development, and once it’s complete, there would be a straight shot, off the highway, all the way from the new development to the round-about by the Meijer gas station. Something that would suggest an access road.
There was the suggestion from one board member that just because you can cut through a bunch of parking lots, that doesn’t mean you have an access road. Too bad earlier township leadership didn’t think to look 40 years down the road, so to speak. A good access road would be nice, but the chance for that has likely passed.
These are the kinds of things, those problems you get when you grow faster than expected, facing today’s leadership in Marquette Township.
The Planning Commission also approved the proposal for a new financial institution moving into the spot next to Range Telecommunications, formerly home to a carpet store. TruNorth Federal Credit Union will be putting in a new branch there and closing their Walmart location. Like most of the dollar stores in town, they’ll probably give that location a nice new look.
Word is that Honor Credit Union has purchased the corner lot at 41 and 492 which previously hosted Michigan Sales. That’s been an empty eyesore for far too long. Kudos to whoever might give it new life.
And the long-closed Zambon’s store, across the highway from Midas, is in the process of becoming a bike shop. Why not? We’ve got all these trails so we might as well have another bike shop.
Back at the board’s work session, members settled on a “wants” vs “needs” way to set their priorities, both short and long term. Needs usually covers infrastructure, which can’t be compromised. Wants is where the fun stuff usually lands. Like recreation.
One observer suggested that, contrary to previous budgetary prioritizing, recreation should be closer to the needs category than the wants. Ok… I’m the observer who suggested it, but it’s true. Recreation can’t just be something done with the money you’ve got left over. Check the people who now live in Trowbridge. It’s a younger, more health-minded population than ever before, and recreation is high on their list of priorities.
The recently proposed recreation park fell through because it failed to meet the requirements for the matching grant. If enough private support is identified, that project could be back on the table. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some active Trowbridgers pick up that ball and run with it.
Here’s where we acknowledge that all of this, all the wants and needs, cost money. The township took a pretty big hit with the Dark Stores tax relief awarded to some of the bigger properties. Supervisor Lyn Durant provided me with the dizzying numbers, but suffice it to say it caused some belt-tightening, right when it looked like all that commercial expansion could boost the coffers a little.
There’s going to be a fresh batch of residents, some of whom will take advantage of a new workforce housing complex near Lost Creek, and many of whom will be moving into the Forestville project. That development was announced last September as a “unique residential community that will bring higher-quality new homes to outdoor-active people…” Sounds to me like they’re expecting some recreation minded folks and families.
All this, plus there appears to be a tangible resurgence in progress at the Westwood Mall. There’s a new sportswear store, an axe throwing range, an in-the-works trampoline park, and a church, under construction. Maybe some new tenants will beget more new tenants, and so on. That’s kind of the idea, isn’t it? Too bad Dunham’s let some ownership issues influence their decision to not have an entrance to the mall. Swing and a miss, Dunham’s.
The trampoline park, combined with the axe throwing thing, could inspire some other family… or kid-friendly activities. With the right mix of businesses, the mall could become a destination once again, particularly for our youth, who could use a safe haven to “hang out” and spend their parents’ money. Where I grew up we had a place called the Smoke Shop, with a soda fountain, some pool tables and a few pinball machines. We can probably do better than that, and the Westwood Mall would be the perfect place for it.
All told, Marquette Township has a burgeoning commercial and residential scene, plus… some of Lake Superior’s finest coastline, Little Presque Isle and Sugarloaf Mountain, and thousands of acres of open land.
With so much going on it’s possible they’ve outgrown the folksy “township” moniker. One suggestion was to give the place a different name, something which better represents the new dynamic… like, West Hills. Like Harvey is to Chocolay Township. Ok, I’m the one who suggested it. Whatever. I just think it’s time we recognized Marquette Township for what it is, and what it’s becoming.