Needs Assessment

As soon as the Discovery Center ~ Great Lakes was created, its leadership began considering site development and assessing organizational needs for space and program expansion. Recognizing the importance of involving the community in this planning, Discovery Center partners launched, in September 2011, a community needs assessment project to collect input for site planning, program development, and creation of architectural drawings. Throughout the needs assessment process, a wide range of community members and constituents was solicited for input including partner organizations, other partners, nonprofit leaders, governmental representatives, residents, educators, and the business community.

Research Method

The needs assessment research included three main components:

1. Input from the Discovery Center partner organizations and their members was collected during a planning summit on October 4, 2011 with 30 participants from all four partner organizations in attendance. Additionally, the architect conducted meetings with each partner organization to identify specific needs for space, programs, and facilities.

2. Five focus groups targeting external audiences (including community leaders, business owners, nonprofit organizations, residents, parents, governmental officials, and educators) were held in November 2011 and February 2012. One was educator-specific, including educators from area public, independent, and charter schools. 58 individuals participated in the focus groups.

3. An online, community-wide survey targeting the general community was created from the compilation of ideas gathered in the five focus groups. It was launched in January 2012 and publicized for five weeks. 187 individuals completed the survey with 68% of respondents having no relationship to the four partner organizations. While the majority of respondents were from Grand Traverse (59%) and Leelanau Counties (26%), representation also included the surrounding counties and beyond. People over the age of 40 made up 77% of the survey respondents, and 59% of respondents did not have children living at home.

Market Research Demonstrates there is Demand for a Community Harbor

The needs assessment indicates a strong community interest in developing the Discovery Center, including a possible harbor and marina. The initial planning summit of the four partners resulted in the following relevant goals:

  • Develop more integrated use of space, educational activities, services and programs.
  • Provide more recreational activities for all ages and capabilities.
  • Attract more nonprofits and for-profits to the site, with judicious evaluation of how well they fit into overall concept.
  • Provide more indoor and outdoor educational opportunities for all ages.
  • Encourage creative use of space, become a model for green development, and leave plenty of open space.

The separately-held community focus groups expressed desires for the campus that were consistent with these goals, including:

  • outdoor space that is interactive, self-directed, and compelling, with frequently-changing displays and programs
  • large, open, outdoor space for education and training
  • a fresh-water aquarium and display providing experiences of regional fish and reptiles
  • an extended-hours campus that is open until sundown, so visitors can experience the site even when buildings are closed
  • a mixed-use site with activities for education and recreation

In response to the online community survey, 91% of respondents indicated that they agree or strongly agree that water-based outdoor activities are important elements for them and their community. 84% agree or strongly agree that a multi-purpose educational marina (boating, fishing, commercial, recreational, etc.) with public access located on the Discovery Center’s Bayfront property (across M-22), would be of public benefit.

The online survey also indicated strong interest in the following specific water-based activities as important to the improvement of the Discovery Center Campus and would be of benefit to them and their community. (Percentage listed indicates respondents who agree or strongly agree.)

Sailing education and training 90%
Sail charters 65%
Fishing education and training 70%
Fishing charters 42%
Diving education and training 62%
Diving charters 46%
Water safety education 87%
Water taxis / tour boats 68%

Overall, the market research demonstrates that there is great demand for public access to the public asset that is Grand Traverse Bay.


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