Beaver Island Boat Company proposes plan to move ferry operations out of downtown Charlevoix
CHARLEVOIX — A proposed move by the Beaver Island Boat Company could mean big changes to city docks at Ferry Beach.
BIBCo is proposing to move its ferry service from downtown Charlevoix to what would be a new ferry docking area in the northern portion of the Ferry Beach parking lot that is primarily used for the city boat launch, according to city manager Mark Heydlauff.
“We are in kick off stages of this project. There is a rough plan here, approvals to get, financing to secure, but it is a plan that has legs and is ready to move,” Heydlauff said.
Moving the service out of downtown will help increase passenger safety and relieve traffic congestion on Bridge Park Drive, said BIBCo president and manager Tim McQueer.
“The idea has been tossed around for years,” McQueer said. “One of our biggest concerns is the congestion in the downtown when the boat is coming in or going out. There really isn’t a great way to fix that.”
With increased business activity on Bridge Park Drive and more people traveling to the island each year via the ferry the boat company has outgrown its space, McQueer said.
“More businesses are in the area and that is a good thing, but the area has changed quite a bit since the Coast Guard is no longer there. Right now our customers are unloading in the middle of Bridge Park Drive and we got more people enjoying that space near the marina. This move is about safety and growth,” McQueer said.
BIBCo plans include purchasing the former Kelsey’s Restaurant property on Ferry Avenue and working with the city to construct the new docking facility.
“A number of things came into to being at the same time and the opportunity was there to get us thinking about some things,” McQueer said. “This is initial planning phase and we are in the process of purchasing the Kelsey B property. We have a purchase agreement with them and so we are working that out.”
BIBCo also hopes the new facility will attract new Great Lake cruise liners.
“We are looking at the possibility of making this area available to cruise ships on the Great Lakes. They need a facility to dock at. It is one of those ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenarios,” McQueer said. “They can bring 300 people at the time. We would like to look into that. We are willing to work with it to make it multiuse and bring those groups of people into Charlevoix.”
The Beaver Island Ferry previously operated from the Ferry Beach location during the marina reconstruction in the late 1990s, McQueer said.
“BIBCo has used that area in the past so we know it is possible,” McQueer said.
The move will add additional time to travel by ferry, but BIBCo officials see efficiencies at the new location.
“It will add additional time, but we don’t see it to be a major fuel issue. The ferry will be at a slow speed and we think it may enhance the trip for a tourist taking the boat from Ferry Beach. They get that kind of mini-tour of Charlevoix.”
On Monday, the Charlevoix City Council will consider approving a grant request to the United States Department of Agriculture to be used for the design of the docking facility and refine the preliminary drawings of the property layout including parking lots and to start the permitting process, Heydlauff said.
“We are still finalizing numbers but we expect somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 and this grant requires no local match,” Heydlauff said. “This should address all the other things needed to bring this plan to fruition.”
Permits required from the U.S. Coast Guard, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers and other entities will take time, Heydlauff said.
“The multiple pieces together at both the state and federal level are pretty significant,” Heydlauff said. “The permitting and construction would happen the next couple of years with operations likely beginning in 2021.”
Council also will discuss what the options are for creating a TIF-capture district, Heydlauff said.
“Likely through a Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA) or waterfront improvement district. The attorney will discuss the pros and cons of these,” Heydlauff said.
If council opts for the authority option this would have a governing board and would capture property tax revenues. This would be used for improvements such as continuing the bike trail from downtown, park improvements, parking lot enhancements and perhaps maritime amenities such as a mooring platform off Ferry Beach, Heydlauff added.
City officials see this as an opportunity to bring more commercial activity to Ferry Avenue.
“We looked at this project as a recipe for success like in downtown Charlevoix. We see success in downtown as four fold: residents, vibrant commercial space, traffic and a large inviting public green space,” Heydlauff said. “The Ferry Beach neighborhood has a couple of those components currently. This can spur more commercial activity and bring more traffic to the area by the way of customers traveling to and from Beaver Island. We believe opportunities to improve that neighborhood in that area are significant and we look forward to working on this going forward.”
The new location of the boat company would be approximately three times larger than its old space. BIBCo officials said that will improve their customer satisfaction, makes it easier for them to bring freight in and out and create a more seamless process for the costumers, said BIBCo CEO Bill McDonough.
“It is a solution that will benefit the traveling public, the city merchants and visitors,” McDonough said. “We are excited about the possibility of a marina, commercial area near Ferry Beach and how this will be a benefit with so many parties.”