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City Seeking Input on Design of 2012 Clinch Park Construction Phase

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To Train, or not to Train

The City of Traverse City is seeking public input on the 2012 Clinch Park Construction. This is the first big step to implementing the Your Bay, Your Say that was steered into preliminary design stages last year in what has become known as the Bayfront Plan (PDF).

The Clinch Park Phase was deemed a priority for the density of the potential use, needs for new amenities and as being an attractive location to attract grants; the City has done that to the tune of nearly $1.4 million. An RFP went out in early summer for this next year’s phase.

The momentum and process were thrown a curve ball when the City Commission reacted to a call by some residents, and many visitors to the region, to reconsider the planned removal of the train ride named The Spirit of Traverse City. In August, the firm hired for the design and engineering of the space was asked to provide options for the City to consider the park with the train and without. Hamilton-Anderson will present those designs at Monday night’s study session. The schematic drawings are below or click here for a full screen view.

I serve on parks and recreation commission and have been directly involved as part of the Bayfront ad hoc committee. A couple of weeks ago, I expressed my perspective on why the train ride was removed during last year’s process. Considering the new design, my opinion still stands that, among other things: it limits both the formal and informal programmable space, creates undesirable conflict points with people walking and biking and dominates a space without corresponding support in the context of the park. It made sense with a zoo, but now we have a train ride and a lawn. Not much else; we can do better. If the City Commission chooses to keep the train, they need to be prepared to fund it and its amenities adequately, if not robustly, to ensure it is an attraction for the next 30-50 years.

Contrary to some public discussion, It was never claimed to be impossible to engineer the train into the park; engineers can do pretty much anything. Yet, that doesn’t mean that is what is desired or the best thing for the future of prime public real estate of the City. As I expressed before:

It isn’t that the train is completely incompatible for what the Bayfront Plan calls for at Clinch, anything can be engineered, but it does create severe limitations for what many feel are minimal gains. The train offers a 10 minute experience in one season and on certain days out of the year for a limited clientele. The attempt of the Bayfront Plan, and it isn’t there yet, is to create a place that captures more people and allows more freedom of movement, experience and programming over a longer time.”

Since last year and into the current discussion, I’ve heard from many people both in support and opposed to the idea of the train. I also heard from many people that were completely indifferent to the train and simply want to see a great public park that they are encouraged to use more often and for longer periods. Currently, most people simply pass through Clinch on their way to something else.

Take a look at the designs, consider what you’d like to see in this space in the year 2012…2032…2052. Then let the City Commissioners know your view via email or at the meeting Monday night at 7pm. Hundreds of people contributed their time and input into the Bayfront Plan over the last six years and that effort remains needed now.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Readers are encouraged to make comments or ask questions here. City Commissioners do occasionally read this blog and follow the discussions (they still need to hear from you directly). That said, if you haven’t made a comment here before please be aware of the Comments Policy. It isn’t meant to limit discussion, but to simply maintain a constructive focus and avoid personal attacks. We can, as a community, have diverse opinions.

  1. Max
    September 9, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I’m against keeping the train and agree with Gary’s note (sent to the CC) on it. I think it’s dirty, smelly and annoying. I, for one, was glad to see it slated for removal.

    Someone commented during the July 18 commission meeting that it’s just (or mostly) steam that comes out of the train’s stack. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but I do know that anyone who has caught even the faintest whiff of that thing knows darn well they aren’t breathing just plain old steam. And the stink does drift around downtown. It’s not very welcoming to say the least.

    Another comment was that there are polluting trucks and other vehicles going by on the highway right next to the park and therefore the train is not much different in terms of pollution. I do agree that the traffic there can be offensive, both in terms of smell and noise. We can’t do anything about that polluting traffic at this point, but we CAN do something about the polluting toy going round and round inside the park. Why add to the problem that traffic creates? It doesn’t make sense.

    Obviously there are other issues with the train…the tracks, the liability and cost of running it, etc, but the stink is my main problem with it.

    Thanks again to Gary for facilitating discussion. I hope people will be civil.

  2. September 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Our family loves riding the train, but I’m very much in favor of removing the train and moving it somewhere else where it’s an overall better use of public space. I still love the idea of having it over near the library, somewhat near the real train.

  3. Katie
    September 9, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Hello, I think everyone should print out these plan options, and then carry them while walking around in Clinch Park. Look around and try to truly envision things as shown in each of the proposals. Open the mind and especially focus on what we would be best for the greatest number of people both now & in the future, as Gary suggests. For me, this exercise without a doubt indicated a firm desire to get the train out of the park (go with Scheme A!). Options without it are so much more enhanced and enjoyable for many more people, for a longer time of the year. Keeping the train in the park, whether in its current form or some adapted form, is contrary to maximizing enjoyment of this prime and beautiful area. If some folks are intent on keeping the train somewhere in Traverse City – fine; as suggested, perhaps by the library, or maybe out near Building 50 somewhere – but not eating up so much gorgeous real estate and convoluting other ideas at the Park. Let’s think visionary, longterm, and maximize usefulness, as Gary’s comments indicate. Please!

  4. Jeff Frost
    September 9, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    The City should have talked with Dr. Frost in the beginning and asked for his thoughts, opinions, recommendations etc. He is the only person in the entire City and most likely county that has the proper knowledge and background. Dr. Frost was never contacted in 2010. He was contacted in Aug 2011, long after the initial planning and decision had been made.

    At least if the City had done this in the first place then if they decided to remove the train the City could then honestly say that they asked the correct person for the proper information. However they did not do that.

    The train is a city owned attraction. It is operated by city employees, cost are paid by the City, the City collects the revenue, owns the train, cars and track and keeps the train in storage over the winter. The City has not balanced the ticket price so revenue will be greater than the cost. The City did not gather any credible information about the train or what the train would need to operate so the City could not make a decision based off of good and thorough information.

    Sure people want it, others don’t and some don’t care. It is about the facts and about the facts that the City did not put any effort into getting. They never contacted Dr. Frost until Aug 2011. This is also about the politics behind it and making decisions without gathering the proper information.

  5. Jeff Frost
    September 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Hull park by the Library is too small (only big enough for a 200′ diameter circle. This is 628′ of track compared to 2300’+ at Clinch park. This would be boring and it is very hard on the train to run in a circle.)

    By building 50 would most likely not work. The train needs 100′ minimum radius curves (200′ diameter) and the space between the buildings most likely will not allow this. The grade also needs to be 2% maximum (2′ rise/fall over 100′) with a minimum of 20-30′ of track to transition from uphill to level and then level to downhill and it is questionable if that could be done. A surveyor would need to survey the land to see.

    The park on 11th street would make the most sense from a land and a good ride standpoint. Once again a surveyor would be needed to survey the land for grades and curves. The downside is there are no places to park, ground would need to be moved, trees cut down and new track laid, there are no water or electricity out there, the homeless sometimes live in the woods and what, other than the train, would attract people? The City is talking about putting a dog park there (and have suggested this park for the train) which means that the train would scare the dogs.

    Clinch Park is the best park for the train. It has a decent length ride, has trees, nice views and grades that make the engine work. It is in an area where people like to go (beach, open space, volley ball, marina) so it does not rely just on its own power to draw tourists. Even full size steam tourist lines find that when they are in a tourist area the business is quite a bit better than being off someplace by yourself.

  6. Jeff Frost
    September 9, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    This comment should not only apply to the train but to all the other attractions as well: “they need to be prepared to fund it and its amenities adequately, if not robustly, to ensure it is an attraction for the next 30-50 years.”

    The City should know what the maintenance costs for the other attractions well be. At this point they do not have any estimates of this. This is the trains 30th season so there is already a good data there. If taken care of the train can last a long time. There are steam engines over 100 years old that are still running.

    The City needs to know the costs for the all attractions in order to ensure that they will and can properly fund all of them for the next 30-50 years. Things will wear down and break no matter what attractions are in the park. They all will require maintance. So far, for the train, taxpayers pay for about 11% of its costs, however with the other attractions it was said that taxpayers will be paying for 100% of those costs.

  7. Katie
    September 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Okay. If there is no viable alternate location for the train, the issue then becomes….keep the train where it is, in some form, or not? If it stays where it is, it compromises design (and safety, in terms of number of crossings) in the Park for the future. So now we have, basically, a choice of the train and a severely restricted park redesign……or no train, and a much more robust design. In that case, I go with the option of no train anywhere. It isn’t worth the sacrifice of other amenities to enjoy.

  8. Jeff Frost
    September 9, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    The placement of the attractions in the east end of the park were pretty much the same or close to the plan that was decided on last fall. This means that when the train was added back in (as the City did not have any proper information about the train in 2010) that the train would then run through these other attractions. Why not have these other attractions inside the loop?

    As far as parking, the train really does not limit the parking. The parking after the light at the Parkway and by the marina has about the same number of spots as the present. The biggest difference is near the boat ramp. The large green area in the east end of the parking lot by the boat ramp takes up around 20 places I believe. To help parking, keep the parking lot the way it is now and don’t eliminate spots for the green “natural area” that is actually on land that is not natural (it was dumped into the water to make this area)

    Then if the train is removed from the City, then what happens? It was talked about “moving the train” to those parks that you listed, but the City did not ask for the information I posted on here.

    If the City wants to sell it, the best way is to have people come see it run. However this is the last weekend for the train. After the 11th, the train will be taken into storage where it will be kept apart and get dusty. People will probably be pay $30,000+ less when it is sitting in pieces in storage collecting dust than when they see it run.

  9. Jeff Frost
    September 9, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    As far as parking, I am not sure how much of that parking will be open to the general public. The marina is supposed to have 2 parking spots per slip. They have 58-59 slips which means they need to have 116-118 parking spots.

    Even in the plan without the train there are not this number of spots. With adding the “natural area” in the east end of the parking lot the number of spaces has dropped. Maybe Gary or someone else from the City can explain how this will pan out with spots for the marina vs spots for the general public.

  10. September 9, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    I think it is important to point out that while Dr. Frost is the local expert for this very specific amusement park ride, he is not an expert on urban planning, public spaces or architecture. The point of this exercise was to develop a long term plan for this large public space based on what the public wanted to do with it. This was determined through a number of public meetings (40 meetings?) during which the public provided their input. At that point, the necessary experts were hired (HamiltonAnderson).

  11. Jeff Frost
    September 9, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    While this is true, it is impossible for those who don’t know what the train needs to be able to make an accurate decision as why/how the train should be kept or removed. No one in the City knows this information and they are not expected to know it. However they are expected to ask those who know so they can get the information. The public should not babysit the City about a City owned attraction.

    If they would have asked Dr. Frost in the beginning and still decided to remove the train, at least they could say honestly that they had the proper information and it would not work. However during all the meetings no one contacted Dr. Frost. It is the City’s responsibility to get this information as the City owns the train and collects revenue from it. It is not the public’s responsibility to babysit the City and check to see if they have the proper information.

    Even when asked about the reasons why the train was removed, the reasons given varied greatly between who answered the question. Some of the reasons (like cost and liability concerns) were said not to be reasons why the train was removed.

    The point of the exercise is to gather all the proper information and then determine A) what could be done, B) what the public wants and C) what is feasible and what is not. However since the City did not have the proper information about the train A and C could not correctly be determined.

    Even if the City decided to remove the train at least they would have been able to A) say that they did indeed properly gather the information and B) they could easily validate the reasons to remove the train with credible information. However they can not do these as they did not have the proper information.

    HamiltonAnderson contacted Dr. Frost in August 2011 because they needed someone who had the proper information and background.

  12. Jeff Frost
    September 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Are any of the commissioners experts on urban planning, public spaces or architecture? If they are not then someone else would need to be hired for their knowledge, insight and information. The same is true about the train.

  13. Jim Whall
    September 10, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I go to Clinch quite a bit now with my kids. I frankly don’t see ‘a much more robust’ plan without the train. There are nice improvements in all of the plans, but the way to really make this a nice area for people to spend a great deal of time would be to get rid of the marina, not the train. The slippage and parking that supports the marina are always going to prevent people from spending a great deal of time there. You can draw all the pretty pictures you want, but when you get to the reality you are going to have a massive chunk of land cut off by parking, boat access, and slippage.

    But, I think that is okay. The area should be for use. I can go to areas all over and see little parks that get partially used. Even nice waterfront parks. What keeps me coming back to Clinch is the boat access and the train. Take them away, and I will stop coming.

  14. Paul Schnell
    September 10, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Not many people in this day in age really have any knowledge of steam engines. The commisioners/officials/public servants are not expected to have this kind of information.

    This note of facebook provides at technical view of the train and dispells some of the rumors about the train. It also includes some hand drawn plans/blueprints as well. I doubt very much that the commisioners can provide information like this:

    This facebook page has the history of the train: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=226858484011380

    Mr. Frost has also been posting on how the engine works; how the valve gear works, the boiler, how grades effect the engine, how the burner works, etc. Granted this is not specificly for keeping the train but it appears that he is trying to educate the public about the train. I doubt that the commissioners or officials can do this.

    I think that if the City offered like a one day class where people could learn about the engine that people would pay for it. However this has not happened.

  15. rob
    September 10, 2011 at 10:50 am

    This is by far the best post I’ve read. You have to ensure the funding is there for maintenance of the attractions and features of the park. Sure they have the money to build it, but where is the maintenance money going to come from?

  16. James
    September 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    I grew up in Traverse City and they got rid of the zoo in claiming it lost $300,000 a year. Also in 2006 the City tried to secretively pass a $16,000,000 parking garage. The train is losing about $7,000 a year. Now they want a plan for the bay front and this phase will cost $1,400,000,-$1,600,000 with the total project costing $26,000,000 a year.

    If things are losing money and we don’t want to spend all that money, then why are we spending $26,000,000 on a new plan when none of the maintenance costs could be figured out? The taxpayers will be paying for it so why are there no estimates?

    To give an idea how much $26,000,000 could go think of it this way: The zoo could remain open for more than 86 years (not including interest on the millions) while losing $300,000 a year. The train could operate for another 2,600 years (not including interest on those millions) while losing up to $10,000 a year.

    I believe that maintenance costs for the new attractions are going to be more than $7,000 a year when you figure all the man hours to do it.

    I hope the City sees this and thinks about it.

  17. James
    September 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I agree. I enjoyed the zoo (when it had the aquarium) and the train. It really made Traverse City unique. No place else in Michigan is there a 15″ steam train that runs all summer long.

    The water way, splash pads, playground are nice ideas but it does not make the park nor Traverse City unique. There is a bay right next to the splash pads.

    If Traverse City is supposed to be a tourist town, why did they get rid of the zoo (an attraction) and why are they getting rid of the train, which is also a very unique attraction?

    I have seen many families consisting of kids, parents and grand parents enjoying the train. This is a muliti-generational attraction and the City should have contacted specific people about the train (which they did not) before they redesigned a park and have no idea of what any of the maintenance costs will be.

  18. rob
    September 11, 2011 at 9:33 am

    The question has to be asked…Where is the maintenance cash flow going to come from? In a time of fiscal responsibility, are city residents willing to pay the price to properly maintain the new features, when many of them think they pay too much now.

  19. James Stuart
    September 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Well said, Paul. I have never seen any of the commissioners/officials work on the train nor run it. It is physical work to do some of these things and I don’t think the could do it or know anything about it.

    This is why they needed to contact an expert on the train. The City has wasted money by not contacting an expert about the train as it came out and now look at what has happened. The City contacted experts for urban planning, engineering and architecture yet they completely ignored the train.

    Those posts on facebook are good. It shows that someone knows good information (and practical information) about the train. Why does the City not hire him to be their expert? It only makes sense to hire an expert on the topic to get the information that no one else has.

    I hope the politics do not get rid of the train. That is what this is about. Politics and politicians dreaming up dreams but not collecting information that goes against what they want.

  20. September 11, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    The following was sent to me by Mr. Frost via my companies support form which I think is more appropriate here in this forum. Note that the point is still missed by Mr. Frost — an expert on an amusement park ride isn’t necessary because the public (including staff and commissioners), via many open meetings over a couple years, decided that they no longer wanted said amusement park ride at Clinch Park. IF the train is to remain, then yes, an expert on this particular amusement park ride should be consulted.

    Here is the email in its entirety:

    Dear Brian,
    I do agree 100% that Dr. Frost is an expert on steam engines and on steam park trains and that he is not an expert on urban planning, public spaces or architecture. However experts on urban planning, public spaces and architecture are 99.9% not likely to be experts on steam engines or steam park trains. This is not a common knowledge and it is professional to recognize the weak areas and contact someone who can fill in the information.

    Experts should be hired for all the areas, including the train. HamiltonAnderson is not an expert on the train so they talked with Dr. Frost. However those involved before (the other firm, the other engineers, the commissioners) should have done this instead.

    Engineers, politicians, commissioners and lawyers don’t have any of this knowledge about the train. They are not expected to have it.

    Dr. Frost has been building 1:8 scale steam engines since 1990. He and I have built 3 and are currently working on 4th engine. Dr. Frost has been working on the 1:4 train at Clinch Park since 2004. The engine has been completely mechanically rebuild, the track has been rebuild, new axles and wheels for the cars have been made and multiple new parts have been designed and fabricated/machined for the locomotive.

    I grew up in TC and got my B.S. in math and international German Minor from Michigan Tech in 2006. I worked on the train from 2004-2006 and starting in January 2007 I have been working on the Strasburg Rail Road, a steam tourist railroad about an hour west of Philadelphia. I am working here as a machinist, steam locomotive mechanic, steam locomotive engineer and fireman as well as conductor on the train.

    In order to know whether or not there is a viable option for the train, the City needed to know the information that Dr. Frost and I know. Also in order to full back up reasons why they said the train would not work, they would need this knowledge. However they did not have it as they did not ask.

    The engineers, politicians, commissioners, lawyers, etc. who were involved don’t know this information and are not expected to know it. This is why Dr. Frost should have been contacted.

    Pointing out that he is an expect in this area is correct. However not contacting him because he is an expect in this area is not correct. This what the public needs to know. The City had an expert working for them and never contacted them. That is a big reason why we are in this mess.


  21. September 11, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    you mean the City should hire someone like HamiltonAnderson?

  22. Jeff Frost
    September 11, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I do agree that expects need to be involved but it is the timing at which they are involved is what I am talking about here. HamiltonAnderson started on the plan this summer. However they had to change things from what had already been planned out from the previous year.

    The waterway had to be relocated due to the source being across the parking lot and not actually on the Clinch Park side. The waterway had been designed to flow uphill so that had to be readdressed.
    There are gasoline and diesel oil tanks in the ground for the marina that had not been addressed previously.
    The cinder block building by the marina was slated to be removed but the transformers inside the building are not meant to be kept outside.
    Shouldn’t have these been addressed previously instead of making a plan that then had to be revised? It seems that experts should have been involved in this aspect as well. How much time and money was wasted to correct these things?

    How could it be properly decided that the train would not work when no expert was contacted? The train was in the plan right up until the final 2010 plan was approved by the commissioners. The commissioners/planners removed the train. It was not broadcast-ed by the city. Reasons why the train were removed were not told readily.

  23. Jeff Frost
    September 11, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    No documentation has been produced showing the the public wants to get rid of the train. Can any be produced?

    At these public meetings was the public told that the train was removed? Were any reasons told? Is there any documentation about this? Even after the train was removed the City did not publish any reason as to why and did not update the train’s page to say that this is the last year for the train until July 2011, more than a month into the season.

    The train was on the plans right up until the final plan was approved in 2010. Why was it on the plans so long if the public did not want it?

    If the City wants to redesign a park shouldn’t experts of urban planning, public spaces, architecture and the train be a part of the process so good and accurate decisions can be made to produce a viable plan?

    Doesn’t it make sense to do it correctly the first time instead of wasting time and money to go back and correct multiple problems?
    The general public, commissioners, officials, lawyers, staff and public servants don’t have all the knowledge to plan something that will work. That is why experts should be hired in the beginning to save time and money instead of correcting things later on.

    Just some food for thought.

  24. Greg
    September 12, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Then cut down on the number of crossings, really when was the last time someone was hurt a “Spirit of TC” train croosing.

  25. Jeff Frost
    September 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Gary, about your comment, “In a meeting I recently attended where the main train engineer was present, he was able to only speak to the rail radius and the engine. When asked what amenities an improved park could have to better serve the train ride nothing was offered.” This is not the point of keeping the train.

    The train does not need to be “celebrated” as you had asked Don. It has been suggested to actually used the ConFoster Museum as a museum and can have a display talking about the train, showing pictures of the rebuild and old parts and talk about how it works. However no comments have ever been made for or against the suggestion.

    It is about keeping the train in the new park plan. Since neither you nor Nate Elkins, also present at said meeting, want to keep the train there is obviously nothing that can be said that will ever change your mind. But that does not mean the train needs to be or has to be improved.

    This has been about gathering the proper information before your decisions had already been made. Your decisions had been made and so far no argument can change your mind. That is fine, it is your choice and your opinion. However you cannot expect for someone to have an answer that will suit you.

    If you want a better park get rid of the marina and parking spots. This will open up a lot more land. However that is not feasible. If you want to have an improved park that will better serve the train, add attractions to the park and keep the train in a viable loop. It is quite simple. It may not be what people want to hear nor does it support you wanting to get rid of the train. But it is that simple. It was suggested many times.

  26. Jeff Frost
    September 12, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    When Don and I were hired in 2004 we were asked to keep the train running. We rebuild the locomotive and improved it and improved the track. We greatly improved performance and the time needed to wait in the station dropped from 30+ minutes to under 5. She has been running well.

    We did our job. Now it is the politics that have entered into the equation and it will be politics that decide the fate of the train. If the politics decide to get rid of the train and then want to sell the train, people will pay at least $30,000 less for a train that is sitting apart, rusty and dusty in storage than they will for one that they can see operating. If this is the path that the politics take they will have screwed themselves out of $30,000+

    No matter what the decision is the train is a unique and fun family attraction. She has done her job well. She has served the City well. I have enjoyed running her, designing parts, fabrication parts and working on her. Don and I did our job.

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