Harbor Springs is moving closer to seeing a newly designed waterfront plan come to fruition. The downtown waterfront design plan, presented by the Downtown Development Authority's (DDA) design committee, was heard and approved last week at a special meeting of the DDA board. This same plan was presented by DDA design committee chairperson Rob Mossburg to members of the Harbor Springs Planning Commission at their meeting on Thursday evening, August 15. Planning Commision members gave their unanimous support for the plan, recommending the plan be moved forward (it will go to the Harbor Commission, and eventually, City Council for approval).
The proposed design plan would incorporate several elements that have been discussed recently, including parking, relocation of the downtown tennis courts and creating more green space with benches and picnic benches along the waterfront area. Other ideas for the plan include a multi-purpose seat wall, which would provide stairsteps down to the water, protecting the shoreline and helping to connect individuals with the water. A boardwalk promenade is also included in the proposed plan, which would follow the waterfront and be attached to a newly constructed Harbormaster building, relocated near the Pier Restaurant.
"We think it does lay the foundation for further downtown enhancements and we think it produces the very elegantly simple design that (maintains) the aesthetics of Harbor Springs," said DDA design committee chairperson Rob Mossburg.
At the DDA's August 8 meeting, members showed their support for the plan, noting they liked the flexibility and simpleness of it. The Planning Commission agreed.
"I like the fact that you're not building a lot of stuff, it doesn't look like a theme park, not something in 10 years we're going to wonder why we built it," said Planning Commission member Andrew Bowman. "Also, it looks like the most money you'll be spending will be right at the water's edge, which is what we need the most."
Planning Commission member Sara Smith noted she liked the unobtrusive nature of the plan.
"It's very simple, clean and open, which is something I like," she said.
Members of the public weighed in on the plan, as well.
"I'm an avid tennis player and my whole family is into tennis," said Ron Turner, who lives on East Bluff Drive. "We have no objection to the tennis courts being relocated. When people started saying relocate, not eliminate, the problem went away."
Tim Patton, a resident of Bay Street, said he supported the plan, but had some concerns, as well.
"I think it's a beautiful plan, I commend the group, a lot of good thinking," he said. "As a downtown resident who lives near the water, a concern of mine is if you're not careful, this could become a place where people loiter. It's great when it operates within regular hours and people have a good time and then go home, but it's terrible if become a place where people just come to hang out, smoke cigarettes, drink and be loud. Overall, I really like the plan, I just want to caution everyone to think about this."
Funds for the project were discussed in more detail at the meeting. Harbor Springs city manager Tom Richards noted financing would most likely come from the waterfront fund and other sources. So far, no taxpayer dollars have been used for DDA needs or for the design plan. Currently, there are no plans to implement any TIFs (tax increment financing) for the waterfront project.
"Under the city's accounting structure, typically this is considered a waterfront asset," Richards noted. "So, funds would also come from the waterfront fund, and most likely be augmented by grants and general donations."
Rob Mossburg noted there is a good possibility to receive some sort of assistance from state agencies and local foundations for the project.
"Funding is always an issue, but we've had a good number of people from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, state agencies and local foundations become aware of what we're doing here in Harbor Springs," Mossburg said. "We also have such a generous, supportive community, I think the range of what we're talking about here is very doable from a finance standpoint."
The next step will be presenting the plan to the Harbor Commission on Wednesday, August 21 at 4 p.m. If it is supported by the Harbor Commission, it could then move to City Council for approval. Mossburg noted if Council were to consider and approve the plan this fall, details of the plan, along with funding options, could be worked out this winter and early spring, with final drawings presented next summer. Construction could potentially begin in fall 2014, with everything up and running summer 2015.
During the meeting, Planning Commission also approved a special land use permit for 339 State Street (the former Pooter Olooms property), for a proposed restaurant. Local residents, Chad and Victoria Conklin, plan to open a specialty restaurant and bakery that would be open for breakfast and lunch. The couple plans to make updates to the interior of the building, including adding a commercial kitchen and bathrooms. No exterior changes would be made to the building.
"Chad and Victoria have worked in the community and been in this industry a long time and have the desire to open a nice community gathering place where they can do specialty breakfasts and lunches with an emphasis on bakery goods," explained Mark Buday, architect for the project. "One thing they really hope to do is bring the concept of farm to table to this restaurant. They are hoping to use as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. Everything would be made from scratch,"
Construction on the interior of the building will likely begin in a month with the restaurant opening some time after.
"They plan to be open year round and plan to open after the peak season is over in order to give them some time to create their network of suppliers and give them some build up time between now and next season to get everything in place," Buday said. "Overall, we feel this will be a wonderful edition to the community."