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9/18/2013 12:01:00 AM
Developer sees potential in downtowns
For Rob Mossburg, new business ventures are almost often a combination of heart and head. The founder of the Cottage Company in Harbor Springs is known for his ambitious development ideas. Sometimes, they work-- like his downtown living community, Bay Street Cottages, and his redesign of several above-storefront condos-- and sometimes, they remain works-in-progress, like the grassy knoll on the corner of Main and Gardener Streets, which is still slated to become Hotel Janelle someday. The one constant, however, is this: Mossburg takes on projects he believes will positively impact downtown communities. That's why the long-time hotelier and developer is paying a visit to Petoskey's Planning Commission on Thursday, September 19. He'll be presenting ideas and early stage concepts for the city's famous "hole"-- an entire city block that was demolished and dug out as part of the now defunct Petoskey Pointe project.

"The 'hole' itself has been there, with nothing happening, for six years," Mossburg said in an interview Monday morning. He was sitting at his desk, reviewing a powerpoint presentation in preparation for Thursday's meeting. The background photo showed the enormous dirt pit, and beyond it, stunning views of Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. "There hasn't actually been anything developed on the property in 10 years though. That's a really long time."

When describing his ideas for the property, the two words echoing through potential plans were "iconic" and "organic." Mossburg said he wants to see something there that both reflects the historic nature of the community, and also, blends well with new urbanism placemaking principles of having a livable, walkable downtown.

"For me, a lot of the desire to be part of this is personal. The idea of stewarding the development of an entire city block in a community I love, it's just something we had to consider. I've been interested for a long time, because this truly is the kind of opportunity that only comes around once every 50-100 years," Mossburg said of his potential purchase and development of the former Petoskey Pointe site. The block is still currently owned by Northwestern Bank. In order to make the sale happen, Mossburg said a public/private partnership needs to happen.

"There's a lot of real evidence we've hit rock bottom, even in northern Michigan," Mossburg said, referring to declines in property values. "In this business, days and weeks turn into months and years very quickly. There's a lot of luck in development. There's also a lot of risk. The market, however, is rebounding, and a public/private partnership (meaning some funding would likely come from the state level, and possibly Petoskey TIF financing) is ready-made for something like this. The truth is, the City of Petoskey is losing hundreds of thousands of potential property tax dollars the longer that site sits empty. And yet, we all want to make sure it is the right project, the right fit for the present and future community."

Mossburg, who still feels very confident that Hotel Janelle in Harbor Springs will be constructed in the not too distant future, said like anything else in business, a strong company does not take on one project at a time. He noted he will continue to work on, and support, all the positive traction being made in downtown Harbor Springs as well.

"I think the future of little towns, specifically little towns in northern Michigan, is very, very bright," Mossburg said. "All people need to do business now is a computer and a cell phone, and they can live anywhere. Secondary or tertiary communities began around lakes, rivers, bases of mountains. They later sprang up around railroads, and then, highway systems. I think the next opportunity to follow this track is quality of life. Small towns in northern Michigan are safe, friendly, and stunningly beautiful. And we have real community. That's something everyone wants, and it's just part of the fabric of who we are here.

"When you add all of this up, it is so easy to see this is an extraordinary place to live, to raise a family. There is a national trend toward living in small, workable downtowns, and northern Michigan is primed with possibility."

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