A Working Waterfront Builds a Blue Economy
A city’s waterfront can be many things. It can be a quiet place to reflect, or a place to gather with friends and family. It can provide a source of recreation for fishing, paddling and boating. It can be an engine of tourism, drawing people from near and far to bask in its splendor and perhaps dip a toe. And it can be center of industry, providing water for manufacturing and a port where raw materials can be delivered from water to land, and finished goods from land to water.
‘Marquette’s waterfront today features physical connections to its historic downtown and reclaimed public space for the community, alongside an active port.’
Over the past two centuries, the City of Marquette’s waterfront in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been all of these things for the community it serves. Marquette Harbor is a federally authorized deep-draft commercial, cargo and recreational harbor with more than 4,500 feet of maintained breakwater structure and a half-mile long, 27-foot deep navigation channel. It is a true working waterfront, where activities integrate people, history and business into an authentic place unlike any other.
But that integration did not happen on its own; the Marquette waterfront of today is the result of decades of careful planning on the part of the City of Marquette.
“Over the course of time, the city, because it was an industrial city, had turned its back on Lake Superior,” says Dennis Stachewicz, Director of Planning and Community Development for the City of Marquette. “When you were at the waterfront, you were looking at the backs of buildings. One of the most important aspects of our community planning was recognizing that. And that allowed us to refocus our efforts towards reclaiming people space on the waterfront.”
But part of the process of doing that, Stachewicz says, was respecting the history and significance of being an historic city with a real working waterfront, and capitalizing on that uniqueness to drive new people-oriented developments without losing sight of what makes a working waterfront special in the first place.
“It’s very easy for people to forget that industry is part of a working waterfront, and it’s very easy for people to want to make it all a park,” Stachewicz says. Engaging people often, and early, is critical to creating community that people can feel invested in while making sure all voices are heard.
“There’s a very fine line that makes you be able to permit people-oriented activities on a working waterfront, without over-managing the expectations of your community,” he says. “It’s very important to ensure that the entire community is informed and educated, and try to get them to participate as much as possible. That was one of the things we did with our waterfront planning process.”
Marquette’s waterfront today features physical connections to its historic downtown and reclaimed public space for the community, alongside an active port.
“We’ve also mixed that with significant investment in terms of residential development,” Stachewicz says. “We’ve seen a lot of new bedrooms close to the downtown. From a planning perspective, the more bedrooms that you put adjacent to the downtown, the more that the downtown becomes viable.”
The Lower Harbor waterfront district has also been transformed through strategic multi-use, public-private developments. Parcels were purchased by the city and re-purposed for redevelopment. These public-private developments have made the community increasingly attractive, with new condominiums, which initially sold for $300,000, now worth $500,000. The city estimates that public purchase and bonding to pay for these efforts has leveraged tens of millions of private dollars for brownfield reclamation and private redevelopment.
And for the first time in decades, the 2010 census showed an increase in population, at a time when the Upper Peninsula of Michigan continues to lose population. Those transplants are not all retirees and college students, but include millennials who may be working remotely at jobs that would never have afforded them the opportunity to live in a pristine northern town before the Internet, or who find employment in the tourism sector or with anchor institutions like Northern Michigan University and Marquette General Health.
“Not only are we seeing an increase in people, we’re seeing an increase in the age cohort of 24-35,” Stachewicz says. “It’s not just retirement people moving up here. It’s young people that are looking for jobs. They move to a place they want to live, and then they find work later.” For more info, go to tinyurl.com/oj3qqr9.