Category Archives: Discovery Pier

Rotary Assumes Leadership Role in Pursuit of Coal Dock

Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael Stump

Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael Stump

A Record-Eagle article describing Rotary’s new leadership role in pursuit of acquiring the former coal dock for use by the public, and for improvements to the programming and activities at the Discovery Center ~ Great Lakes.

The Discovery Center welcomes this new initiative and the momentum the it will bring to the process.

Could We See This Cruise Ship at the Community Pier in the Future?

St LaurentA new Great Lakes Cruise Ship will begin plying the Great Lakes waters in 2015. The proposed Discovery Community Pier could be the port of call that cruise ships like this need so passengers can conveniently disembark and tour our area.

The Saint Laurent, measuring 286 feet long and with a draft of 13 and half feet, features 105 luxury staterooms, says Great Lakes Cruise Company. Learn more….

It was specially designed for cruising the Great Lakes and can travel at a speed of up to 12 knots.


Black Mountain Yacht Club








Back in the mid-70’s West Bay Boat Works (Bob Core and Bob Sprenger) leased the Coal Dock harbor from Traverse City Light and Power, adding some docks and a travel lift. Sail North (Mike Wills) acquired WBBW in 1984 and with it, the coal dock marina lease, adding about 60 slips to Sail North’s 20 or so (still in use since about 1973).



The coal dock would get 3 or 4 deliveries by self-unloading ships every year. Between deliveries, coal was taken from the pile every day for the power plant and wind blowing across the pile would coat the boats in the marina with fine black dust. The worst was when off-loading coal from ships to the dock by conveyor.

There was nothing we could do about the dust except clean our boats frequently; we had to accept the dust as a condition of the lease with TCLP. So, instead of grumbling and complaining, we decided to make diamonds out of coal! The marina was dubbed “Black Mountain Yacht Club” and a high-contrast photo of the marina and black mountain became the logo.


Boaters were given membership cards and BMYC T-Shirts became a hot commodity, proudly worn in yachting circles around the area and by customers of Sail North’s bareboat yacht charter fleet.

bmyc_shirtWant to place and order? Maybe we will resume production if there is high demand!

Black Mountain Yacht Club was extinguished in about 1995 when TCLP decided to remove the docks because of the cost to replace the rotting wooden sea wall along the west side of the harbor. Today, the harbor is home to the Maritime Heritage Alliance’s schooner Madeline, cutter Champion and other vintage wooden boats, along with the Traverse Tall Ship’s charter sailing ship Manitou. The school ship Inland Seas ties up frequently, too, when plying lower West Bay. Preserving dockage for the tall ships and opening the dock to the public is the Discovery Center’s primary goal.




Tall Ships at the Discovery Center


We are the first to admit that parking on the dock is NOT ideal, nor the highest and best use of the dock. But, in the short term, it makes this project feasible and without it, not. Once pedestrians have a way to safely get across the highway (think medians with safe at-grade crossings, bridges, tunnels, shuttles, trams, trolleys) to remote parking lots, we can move parking off the dock. Those solutions will take time and money, but when they are in place, parking can be moved off the dock to free up activity space. In the meantime, there is room around the perimeter for fishing, picnicking, strolling and interpretive displays

We are the first to admit that parking on the dock is NOT ideal, nor the highest and best use of the dock. But, in the short term, it makes this project feasible and without it, not. Once pedestrians have a way to safely get across the highway (think medians with safe at-grade crossings, bridges, tunnels, shuttles, trams, trolleys) to remote parking lots, we can move parking off the dock. Those solutions will take time and money, but when they are in place, parking can be moved off the dock to free up activity space. In the meantime, there is room around the perimeter for fishing, picnicking, strolling and interpretive displays

Discovery Center Refines Its Waterfront Plan

We continue to work to ensure that we have fulfilled our responsibilities for both the economic and environmental due diligence associated with our proposed project. As a result, we are scaling back our original vision for a Community Harbor and Marina and are focusing just the Community Harbor and Pier, for now. All of our current efforts will be toward developing the best plan that we can for the area shaded blue below (the Community Harbor). The Community Marina is no longer a focus of our current plan.

Harbor & Marina

There is a unanimous sentiment among all of the Discovery Center partners that preserving the former coal dock for our community’s tall ships must be a paramount goal. None of us can imagine our region without the glorious sight of the gaff-rigged schooners plying the waters of West Bay throughout the summer. After 25 years, the tall ships have become integrated into our community’s unique identity.

Aerial photo of DCGLWe are developing a phased approach as we re-envision all of the opportunities for a regional waterfront attraction created from the former coal dock, including a safe harbor for the tall ships, a deep water port and access to West Bay fisheries, and general access to West Bay for our community’s residents and visitors alike. This phased approach will allow us to better focus our effort on working out a mutually agreeable arrangement with the City of Traverse for the use of the former coal dock to preserve existing and create new recreational and educational activities that will benefit Traverse City and the region. It will also make future development of the project more manageable.

Slide36Our vision and goals have always been to achieve the maximum community benefit for everyone involved. Converting our community’s former industrial waterfront into a public attraction will have a powerful impact for years to come. We will continue to work our environmental and economic due diligence to help make sure that this project will happen successfully and be sustainable in the long run. Please support our efforts.




Sister Facility in Campbell River Vancouver Island, BC

Amazing and weird to have stumbled on another facility so similar to the proposed Discovery Center Community Pier! A Maritime Heritage Center, public fishing pier (actually named Discovery Pier) and an aquarium. All projects of the local Rotary Club, making much out of surplus and ignored city-owned property. Click here to check out their website and read their story:

From an undistinguished piece of land to a showplace for Campbell River, the Maritime Heritage Centre has had a remarkable evolution.

The Maritime Heritage Centre project began in 1998 when the District of Campbell River (now the City of Campbell River) solicited ideas for potential uses for the land near the Discovery Pier.  The land had previously been the site of the old sewage treatment plant, since upgraded and relocated to an area north of town.

The Campbell River Daybreak Rotarians proposed that a maritime heritage type centre be built to showcase the history of the local coastal waters and their links to the community.  The City approved the concept and the Rotarians, through a separate society, built the Maritime Heritage Centre.  The completed centre was turned over to the City, and the Maritime Heritage Society now operates it.

The transformation of the site rid it of the stigma attached to its prior use.

Building the Maritime Heritage Centre was a Community Service Project of mammoth proportions for the Daybreak Rotary Club, with an impact on Campbell River for years to come.  The Centre is not considered a Museum, but rather an activity centre, containing facilities for education, research, exhibitions and social engagements – and most importantly, the reconstruction and housing of the BCP45 fishing seiner that once adorned the back of the Canadian five dollar bill.

This facility is a marvelous example of how a community and government can work together to make a beautiful, useful and functional facility which even today, continues to grow and improve.


White Paper on Water and Michigan’s Economy

blue economy

This report validates the Discovery Center proposal for public use of the former coal dock and is worth reading. Michigan Economic Center Report: Water, Michigan and the Blue Economy (download here). In this new report we define the ‘Blue Economy’ as the way Michigan’s natural water assets, and water education, research and technology innovation creates jobs and contributes to economic growth.  The report is a baseline inventory of Michigan’s blue economy activity and conservatively estimates nearly one million Michigan jobs, and $60 billion in annual economic impact, linked to Michigan’s water assets and water innovation abilities. The report was commissioned by the Governor’s Office of the Great Lakes to inform a developing state water strategy, and as a first step context-setter for the project “Growing Michigan’s Blue Economy”, supported by the C.S. Mott Foundation, designed to  accelerate the growth of  Michigan’s Blue Economy.  I hope you will share this report with others, and are happy to answer questions. For more information go to, or contact me at the number and email below.  John Austin Director, Michigan Economic Center Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution President, Michigan State Board of Education 734.474.3110 @John_C_Austin

Public Meeting on April 21

Meeting Scheduled! The Traverse City City Commission will hear our proposal on Monday, April 21 at 7:00 pm in the Commission Chambers at the Governmental Center. You can find the Board agenda by clicking here.

We are on the agenda during Public Comment as:

Reserved public comment request from Mike Wills, representing Discovery
Center Great Lakes regarding its interest in the Traverse City Light and
Power Coal Dock Property.

No action is expected to be taken; however, there will be an opportunity to make individual publi comment after Mike’s presentation. The presentation will be televised live on Charter Government Channel 191 and available to view on-line  live or later at your convenience.


Editorial: Public must have major say in coal docks future

Click here to view the Record Eagle April 13, 2013 Editorial: Public must have major say in coal docks future.

The Discovery Center’s proposal for a Community Pier, Harbor and Marina is on the City Commission’s April 21 Agenda.

No Negative Impact to TCLP Action at April 8 Board Meeting

Going into tonight’s meeting, the perception and fear was that the property would transfer to the City upon the motion being presented. While the motion passed, what we learned and heard at the meeting is that this was really only a motion to approve the transfer, whereupon the City Commission will initiate a public process to fully investigate all the issues, risks, opportunities and options regarding the Discovery Center Proposal and the property itself. But, no deed will be signed and no transfer made until the City, upon conclusion of the process and careful, thoughtful deliberation, makes a final decision as to the future of the coal dock and then passes a resolution to either accept the transfer of property or dispose of the property in some other manner. Once the two bodies agree, only then will transfer to any entity occur. TCLP will continue to own, maintain and manage the property in the meantime.

Given the repeated assurances during the meeting of Mayor Michael Estes, City Manager Jered Ottenwess, Commissioners Barbara Budros and Jim Carruthers that our proposal would be given fair, open and public consideration, along with statements of personal support for our proposal from them and most of the TCLP board members, I am personally at peace that we can trust them all to give this amazing concept, supported by so many in our community, a fair chance to become reality. It will not happen quickly, nor should it. What we have conceived needs to be understood, supported and accepted by the community at large.

There was great angst, fear and mistrust leading up to tonight’s meeting and I accept responsibility for much of that. There was a lot of time spent and much discussion fueled by this proposed action, which resulted in good discourse amongst all the parties and no adverse action. In the end, it may have galvanized our resolve to do good for the community and an appreciation for the roles we all play.

So, my personal Thank You to the TCLP Board Members and City Commissioners who graciously bore up under the pressure and managed to navigate a delicate situation honorably and respectfully. And a Thank You as well to all the individuals and organizations who spent their valuable time to support this great vision. My enthusiasm for the project and confidence that the good vision we have will become reality is undiminished.

We all want what is best for the community, so let the discussion begin!  Next stop, April 21 presentation to City Commission.

Mike Wills, Chair

TCLP Considers Transfer of Former Coal Dock to City – Tuesday, April 8

On Tuesday, April 8 at 5:30 pm the Traverse City Light & Power Board of Directors will consider two actions with respect to the former coal dock property. To see what’s on the agenda, check out the memo containing proposed actions Declaring Coal Dock Surplus.

First, they will consider declaring the property surplus. This is an action we wholeheartedly support.

Second, they will consider immediately transferring it to the City of Traverse. We vigorously oppose this action for a variety of reasons:

  • It is inconsistent with the discussions and concerns raised at the February 10th Joint Study session between the City and TCLP. At that meeting concerns were raised about the property being consider parkland if the City took title, as well as the consensus that the property would stay with TCLP until the City Manager developed a plan for moving forward.
  • It also limits legal options available to TCLP that are not available to the City. Most notably, once the City takes title they can never transfer title without putting the property up for competitive bid. To see an analysis of the pros and cons of the various actions, check out the Property Flow Chart.
  • It will undermine years of work by the Discovery Center and Rotary Camps & Services to move our proposal forward through an open and thoughtful process.

Please support the Discovery Center ~ Great Lakes in our efforts to move forward in developing a world-class working waterfront at the site of the former coal dock. Contact the TCLP Directors or to email all Board Members at once, send an email to: Better yet, come to the meeting at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, April 8 at the Governmental Center on 400 Boardman Avenue in Traverse City and voice your support for the Discovery Center.