NO TOWN ENJOYS a happening more than Marquette, and for much of February it’s been happening in the lower harbor, in the shadow of the ore dock.
In spite of our mother’s warnings, we’ve been venturing out on the ice. Skating, walking, slipping, sliding… just being out there, many for the first time. And though the Superior skating rink has been the main attraction, the ore dock, now seen up close and personal, has gained new appreciation and attention.
It also has the locals speculating on the dormant dock’s future.
When the train trestle-ectomy took place in 2000, the hulking dock was left standing, no longer attached to anything but the lakebed and the distant horizon. An imposing reminder of the area’s mining and shipping identities.
So though we’re going on twenty years of a detached dock and fifty years since it was operational, the question still remains… what should be done with it? Until any plan is officially presented for public approval, it’s hard to know exactly what the people would like to see. Suggestions include everything from leave it alone, to commercial development, to tear it down altogether.
Calm down. According to city manager Mike Angeli, there’s no real appetite for getting rid of it. “I can probably say that no one wants it removed or torn down.” In fact, the dock is an essential piece of the lower harbor infrastructure, serving as a windbreak that protects the existing commercial and recreational interests.
Angeli indicated that the city has committed no resources… funds or staff, to any plan going forward, other than assisting any responsible group that presents an acceptable idea.
One such effort is being championed by the Friends of Ore Dock BotEco Center. It was about five years ago when the “Friends” came forward with a plan to turn the dock into a multi-use facility with what they call their 4 pillars of redevelopment:
- Historical restoration and preservation
- Ecological education
- Community spaces
- Botanical gardens
If you were one of the many who ventured down to the dock this month, you were probably impressed with the massive size of the structure and the herculean effort that would be required to develop it in any fashion. So you may think the Friends of the Ore Dock are biting off way more than they can chew.
That’s until you get the pep talk from Gisele Duehring, president of Friends. “We have an unwavering optimism about and commitment to this vision becoming a reality. Our drive is rooted in a belief that this will serve the community.”
But how would you even pull this off? Where would you start?
Well, they have a plan for that too. Three phases that make the job sound a little more doable, as in, one bite at a time.
The steps break down like this…
- Connector to shore, promenade around the dock, and performance space at the far end of the dock
- Enclosing portions of the lower deck for year-round community space
- Providing access to and planting botanical gardens on the upper deck
Okay… sounds like they’ve put some thought into this. A lot of thought. But these are all pretty big ideas, and big ideas don’t come cheap. Where’s the money coming from?
Their website, which is quite informative, lays out their plans for fundraising… Sources for development and construction include project-based grants; community fundraising and crowdfunding; donations of time, professional skills, and materials; and private or corporate donations.
A modest amount of money has been collected to date. There was a grant from the NMU PRIME Fund that went to Art & Design students and faculty to construct a scale model of the dressed up dock. So there’s already been some cross-pollination in the community and a resume ready project for the students. The grant also included financing for the business plan and an economic impact analysis.
Other grant apps are in the works for money to advance design development. That’s a step that needs to be taken before they even get to stage one, so yeah, feel free to blink… you won’t miss anything. An initial estimate put the ribbon cutting at about 10 years. But the troops seem to have the stomach for the long haul, and a leader whose passion for the project is contagious.
Duehring just retired from Northern and has the time and energy to keep this train on the tracks.
“Now that crowds have been in and on the dock, via the recent ice walkway, they really have gotten a taste of this being “the people’s dock.” It’s the experience, the magnificence of the architecture, and the nearly 2000 feet of additional shoreline! This project would provide them a safe, consistent, ADA compliant passage to, around, and through their dock.”
Duehring continued, “People in there were in awe, they were excited and joyful, they were having fun! How exciting to see such multigenerational, multicultural, multiethnic, multi-socioeconomic crowds of both locals and visitors.”
Though there seems to be plenty of enthusiasm for the BotEco proposal, it is still just that… a proposal.
You might remember all the proposals that came and went regarding redevelopment of the abandoned orphanage. While it was still an empty eyesore, a woman by the name of Treasure Lampi King signed a sale contract with the intent of turning the building into a performing arts school. Great idea! If memory serves, that got as far as King planting petunias along the front walkway.
But this feels different.
Though it’ll be a complex and challenging undertaking for a non-profit, Angeli is impressed with their progress to date. “BotEco has surprised me with how aggressively they are moving and it may not take as long as I originally thought.”
Duehring and her group have been buoyed by public reaction. “The vast majority of people we’ve interacted with in any manner think this is a good idea. They especially resonate with this being for the community and not for private investment.
“We believe this is an ambitious project, though wonderfully ambitious rather than awfully ambitious, and we have an unwavering optimism about and commitment to this vision becoming a reality.”
Coming up with the money necessary will be awfully challenging, as opposed to wonderfully challenging. And you can bet the process won’t be quite as smooth as last week’s ice sheet. For one, they’ll have to win over the “don’t change it” crowd, and that won’t be easy.
But the good stuff seldom comes easy. And like it or not… you got a better idea?
For more information, check out the Friends website at oredockboteco.org
Ice Racing in Gwinn, Saturday at 4pm.
4-wheelers/ORVs and motorbikes race on a 1/4-mile ice track with racers of all ages.
$5 donation per carload for spectators.
A family friendly way to enjoy the winter months, presented by the Upper Michigan Ice Racing Association.
If you have an upcoming weekend event that you’d like to see mentioned here, send your info to email@example.com