THE IDEA THAT YOU CAN’T fight city hall might be put to the test with a couple upcoming projects, notably the proposed hotel on Lakeshore Boulevard, and the more deliberative Spaceport project at Granot Loma.
First, we should acknowledge that we don’t actually know how “city hall” feels about either of these projects. Regarding the hotel proposal, the Marquette City Commission hasn’t yet received a recommendation from the Planning Commission, which hasn’t yet held a public hearing on the subject. And Powell Township, which may have the definitive say in the rocket launch site proposal, hasn’t yet been contacted by anyone from the Spaceport side, so no determinant wheels have yet to be put in motion.
Since both projects are currently somewhere ‘on the table,’ we’re currently at that point where influence exerted by the public can actually, believe it or not… make a difference, regardless of which side it comes from.
If the initial Facebook reaction to the Lakeshore hotel project is any indication, that one’s off to a rocky start. The Planning Commission will be reviewing the proposal at their meeting scheduled for September 6th, and it’s a safe bet to think they’ll hear from citizens weary of the seemingly endless development along the lakeshore.
Aside from being simply ‘another’ development to raise the public’s ire, the specific location sought for the hotel, across from Picnic Rocks, seems to be the focus of opposition. Yes, there are other businesses in the immediate area, including a Bed & Breakfast, but general sentiment suggests that a 4-story hotel would be out of character for the neighborhood.
Unless the opposition exhibited on social media is easier said than done, we should expect plenty of public comment at the Planning Commission meeting. The proposed site is in an area apparently zoned as mixed-use, so those hoping to stop the project will have to rely on some good old-fashioned public outrage to influence the Planning Commission, or, if it gets that far, the City Commission.
The Spaceport project is similar, in that there’s no shortage of public opinion. And any benefits from the project may not be worth what’s given up in the stewardship of our environment.
Other than that, this is a fight that likely won’t be resolved as readily as the hotel proposal. There are powerful forces on both sides… organized and well-funded. It’s the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, or MAMA, versus Citizens for a Safe & Clean Lake Superior (CSCLS) and their widespread community support.
Both sides can cite studies to bolster their position. To their credit, the Powell Township Board commissioned a study from an independent group, appointed by them. The results of their research are available on the township website.
Research Committee member Jeanne Baumann says the group is committed to supplying the township with the best information available. “The central focus always settles on what we can learn from reputable sources in a broad and changing industry, and what impact the proposed enterprise could have on our township.”
While avoiding a lean in either direction… by design, the committee’s second report to the board did offer this… “Preparation for township and resident involvement in this is best an ongoing process, as much diverse information and expertise is relevant. Be prepared”
In other words… it’s complicated.
The question for decision-makers will be… “How much do we value economic development and job creation when compared to the potential loss of unblemished acreage and a historical identity?”
What are the primary objections voiced by the Spaceport’s opponents? Are they simply environmental concerns, or the idea that the public’s will should dictate the decision? Cait Sternberg, Director of Outreach and Communication for the CSCLS, believes it’s a combination. “I hope that by putting together comprehensive evidence of community disapproval, environmental impact, and lack of need, that our local government will stand with us to defeat MAMA’s proposal.”
Ah, “lack of need.” That’s one element of the objection platform that sounds good on the surface but doesn’t seem to deter the powers behind such projects. Does Marquette “need” another auto parts store, another bank, another coffee shop? According to Sternberg, there are plenty of launch sites around the country, often operating under capacity, so we don’t “need” another one. You can probably picture the ‘so what’ look on developers’ faces when presented with that argument.
While opponents have been raising funds and marshalling forces, MAMA has been relatively quiet, presumably working behind the scenes. According to MAMA spokesperson Mary Ann Sabo, the Marquette County project is third on their to-do list. “We are working on the various sites sequentially – our focus right now is on Oscoda, then the command and control center in Chippewa County and then the site at Granot Loma, so we are still many years away from turning our attention to this site.”
MAMA Executive Director Gavin Brown has visited the area in recent months, meeting with community leaders and giving presentations to various civic groups. As you might imagine, he draws a pretty optimistic picture of what the launch facility could do for the area, while displaying an air of confidence that the Spaceport will be built.
Will there be jobs? Sure. How many? Not sure.
Other than the occasional visit from their director, MAMA is playing their cards pretty close to the vest. No contact has been made with Powell Township officials, but spokesperson Sabo says, nothing is going to happen quickly. “There is a lengthy permitting process with the FAA that MAMA must go through before any approvals for a site can be granted. This process will include an extensive environmental assessment, engagement with the community and other reviews. The FAA will not permit a site that poses a danger to residents or to the environment.”
Sounds reasonable, but it doesn’t explain the lack of communication with the folks at downstate Oscoda’s Wurtsmith facility. According to an article in the Iosco County Press, shared with us by CSCLS President Dennis Ferraro, Wurtsmith airport manager James Downes seems unimpressed with what should be active lines of communication. “I’ve got 100 acres ready and waiting for development whenever they want it. There has been no call since.”
At some point, the players from the MAMA coalition are going to have to show their hand and start seeking approvals. From here, it looks like an uphill battle. But industrialist types don’t mind getting their hands dirty, and won’t easily accept a failure to launch.
Finally, at least for now, it should be noted that the Granot Loma lodge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That would seem to present an obstacle to any kind of commercial development. If that’s the case, and property owner Tom Baldwin is so amped to sell, why don’t we buy him out and make it a property of Marquette County? His asking price went from 40 million to 20 million in the last few years. Maybe in a couple more years, if there’s no rocket’s red glare, it might even be affordable. Think of the room rental!
Exactly how much influence will ‘the people’ have on either of these projects? We’ll see. Even when project developers are well-intentioned, and working within written guidelines, vigorous public opinion is hard for elected officials to ignore.
- If you’re looking for more information about the Spaceport issue, there was a good story on a recent episode of WNMU-TV’s PBS News Hour. Here’s the link for that… https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/proposed-rocket-launch-site-in-michigan-fuels-community-concerns. There was also a well-researched article in the New Yorker. It’s by David Rompf and is dated April 24, 2022. It’s a lengthy read, as many New Yorker articles are, but very thorough.
*Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Barry Polzin as the “developer” of the Lakeshore Boulevard hotel project. Polzin is the architect for the project, not the developer.