2017-10-07 / News

New Tourism Bureau Building Proposal Prompts Review of Process

By Stephanie Fortino

The Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau building on Main Street will be replaced this winter with a new two-story structure. The service window where people can ask questions will be moved to the side to lessen congestion on the sidewalk. The project was approved by the Historic District Commission and Planning Commission Tuesday, September 12. The Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau building on Main Street will be replaced this winter with a new two-story structure. The service window where people can ask questions will be moved to the side to lessen congestion on the sidewalk. The project was approved by the Historic District Commission and Planning Commission Tuesday, September 12. The Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau will have a newer, bigger office when its small, blue building on Main Street is demolished and replaced during the upcoming construction season.

Plans to enlarge it won approval September 12 from the city’s Historic District Commission and Planning Commission. The office, across the sidewalk from the Mackinac Island Carriage Tours ticket booth, is on a city-owned lot adjacent to the public restrooms.

The Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau and Mackinac Island Convention and Visitors Bureau are funding the project, which had been under consideration by the city council’s Building and Grounds Committee during the summer. While the city council approved the new building August 16, the historic district and planning commissions still had to evaluate its compliance with architecture and zoning requirements.

Historic District Commission approval is contingent on a new site plan that calls for windows on the back of the building, as well as an application from owners of the neighboring Murray Hotel to make modifications that will accompany the project.

The existing building will be demolished and replaced by a two-story structure. The building will be expanded 6.5 feet toward the neighboring public restrooms to allow for a stairway to the second floor. Lilacs behind the building will be relocated.

Since the second story of the new Tourism Bureau will obstruct the view from the Murray Hotel’s second-floor bay windows, the two tourism groups agreed to pay to have the windows extended about a foot, which will allow guests to see Haldimand Bay when looking south across Main Street.

The proposed alterations to the Murray Hotel prompted a debate at the Planning Commission, which may add another requirement to the zoning permit application.

At the September 12 meeting, city architect Rick Neumann provided a review of the structure and said it fits in well with the downtown historic district. The new building will look like a Queen Anne or late-19th Century residential building. In general, it will look like an old building, he said, but he asked whether the building creates a false sense of history.

“When I look at the drawings, I can imagine that the details of the building would be done in a less historic manner,” Mr. Neumann said, adding he believes that wouldn’t create a false sense of history.

Designer Gene Hopkins, of HopkinsBurns Design Studio, explained the aesthetic of the design, which he said mimics that of a residential structure. Its pitched, gable roof and proportions are more characteristic of residential buildings, as commercial buildings downtown are rectangular in shape and have flat roofs, he noted.

“We looked at completely changing the building,” Mr. Hopkins said, “making it look like a commercial historic downtown building. But it wasn’t big enough, and to try to do that with the scale of the Murray next to it, it was just inappropriate.”

He also said the building would help diversify the architectural styles downtown. While its style mimics that of structures that were downtown previously, he said, its details are clean and simple, rather than ornate like some historic buildings in the district, such as the Murray Hotel and Chippewa Hotel.

“When you really look at the downtown,” Mr. Hopkins continued, “we feel there really needs to be a greater diversity of the architecture. There needs to be a little bit of respect for those previous buildings that were in the downtown. So we felt that having a building that was very traditional in scale and size and elements, but not mimicking anything within the downtown, provided that diversity and richness of architecture that creates that appropriate scale.”

Historic District Commission member Lee Finkel, who also serves on the Planning Commission, agreed that the architecture of the new tourism bureau is appropriate and will look like it belongs downtown.

The first floor of the building will house office space. A service window where the public can ask question will be along the side of the building near the sidewalk that leads to the public restrooms, rather than on Main Street, where it’s located in the present building. That’s intended to relieve congestion on the Main Street sidewalk.

The first floor will have a bank of windows that, Mr. Hopkins explained, is supposed to make it look like an old front porch that has been filled in with windows.

The back of the building will have a small restroom, as well as the stairway to the second level. Upstairs, a new conference room will provide space for tourism bureau staff to meet. An overhang will extend from the roof to provide cover for people standing at the service window below. Two secondfloor windows will look onto a faux balcony atop the overhang.

Commissioner Lorna Straus said she is concerned the faux balcony might one day be converted to a useable space. By replacing one window with a door, she said, and the balcony could become a gathering space for people.

“We never thought about that,” Mr. Hokins said, “and we never designed it that way.”

He reassured her the faux balcony, a design element, can’t and won’t be used as a gathering place. He said it can’t be used that way because the decorative railing is too short. It will only be used for maintenance and snow removal, he said.

Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau President Bob Benser also said the deck will not be used.

“That is not the intent at all,” Mr. Benser said. “We’ll have sufficient space.”

The alterations to bay windows on the Murray Hotel were included in an architectural rendering of the new tourism bureau office. While the Pulte family, owners of the hotel, had met with members of the city council in recent weeks, they haven’t submitted any paperwork, which spurred discussions at both commissions.

Andrew Doud, who filled in as Historic District Commission chair while Jennifer King was out of town, asked that the Pultes, who did not attend the meeting, submit an application to document the changes being proposed to the hotel.

The Planning Commission did not require written notification from the Pulte family as part of its project approval, but members debated at length whether they should.

The Planning Commission approved the project 6-1. Mr. Finkel, who voted in favor of the project as a Historic District Commission member, voted against it on the Planning Commission, saying he wants written notification from the Murray Hotel that its changes will comply with the fire code.

The newest fire code requirements come into play because the tourism bureau is to be razed and replaced. Extension of the Murray’s windows will reduce its setback from the property line, a change that’s subject to Planning Commission review. The Murray Hotel will have to install fire shutters – fire coderated metal shutters or screens - to comply with the state fire code, said city building inspector Dennis Dombroski.

“We have a code issue because of separation between the buildings,” he said, “so the Murray has to make changes. So how do you go about getting those done?”

As Planning Commission members debated whether they should require the Pultes to submit written notification before approving the Tourism Bureau project, Commissioner Jim Pettit pointed out the commission had approved a project without asking for similar documentation regarding changes to a neighboring building. That being the case, he said, why should it be required from the Murray?

“I think we should treat everybody the same,” Mr. Pettit said.

Commissioner Anneke Myers agreed and pointed to other projects the Planning Commission had approved that prompted changes to neighboring buildings, as well. Nothing was required from the neighbors before the projects were approved, she said.

Mr. Dombroski said the Planning Commission should start requiring it because enforcing the building and fire codes is becoming difficult. He said one building owner has not made the changes necessitated by alterations to an adjoining structure.

“We would have to condemn the adjacent building if they don’t come up to speed,” Mr. Dombroski said.

Such directives, however, have not come from the Planning Commission, said Commissioner Mary Dufina.

“We have not asked a neighbor to make changes in the past,” she said.

Mr. Benser urged the Planning Commission not to tie projects together, saying the process is “already thorough enough.”

Commission Chair Michael Straus solicited advice from city attorney Tom Evashevski, who said he would have to research the matter before rendering a legal opinion.

“Right now we’re looking at procedure,” Mr. Straus said. “In the past, we’ve approved projects that have made changes occur in the neighboring property. And so now we’re considering another project that would make changes in the adjacent building, but we haven’t required any written notification from that building owner or property owner that they’re willing to make those changes. That’s what Dennis would like this time, which is different than what we’ve done before.”

Requiring a neighbor to agree to changes that would be required on their property before a project is approved might protect the city, Mr. Straus said, adding that the issue is likely to come again as more development is proposed.

“As people build to maximum density downtown, this is definitely going to be reoccurring,” Mr. Straus said.

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