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‘Uncommon opportunity’

Public learns more about Ore Dock BotEco Center at Travel Marquette reception

A scale model built by Northern Michigan University faculty and students depicting the proposed design for the Ore Dock BotEco Center is shown at a reception for the project held at Travel Marquette. The project aims to transform Marquette’s Lower Harbor ore dock into a community space featuring a boardwalk, year-round botanical gardens, performance spaces and more while preserving the history of the structure. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Imagine visiting an enclosed green space atop or inside Marquette’s lower harbor ore dock to get a little taste of summer on a cold, dreary winter day.

This could become a reality in the coming years as the Ore Dock BotEco Center project — which aims to repurpose the ore dock into a public space featuring a boardwalk, year-round botanical gardens, performance spaces and more while preserving its history — moves forward, said Gisele Duehring, president of the Friends of Ore Dock BotEco Center Board.

Area residents had a chance to see a scale model of the proposed project, view a virtual 3-D tour, hear a project update from Duehring, and provide input during a reception for the Ore Dock BotEco Center held Tuesday.

“The public support that we have experienced is tremendous,” Duehring said. “People are excited about this. We find out how dear this is to people, and one of the things they’re most excited about, even though the model is this blonde wood … we will keep what I call the ‘rusty blush’ because we want to keep that industrial look down there.”

The reception was held in the lobby of Travel Marquette offices on Tuesday morning, as Travel Marquette hosted the display in November and will host it for the remainder of this month.

“We thought this would be a great place to have it displayed and it’s a great project for downtown Marquette,” Travel Marquette Executive Director Susan Estler said. ” I’m really excited to be a part of it and help support it. And I think it’s a good complement to what the city is doing as well.”

The scale model on display — which was recently created by Northern Michigan University faculty and students with support from the Northern Prime Fund as part of a collaborative project that also includes the development of a business plan and economic impact analysis — demonstrates what the ore dock could look like after the multi-phase project is completed, Duehring said.

“The first phase as someone lovingly named it ‘Walk the Dock’ and that’s where we are connecting it to shore and putting a promenade around it. Just get people out there with some performance spaces,” she said. “Then the second phase it shows where we (put) glass in the bottom part of it, so that we have more year-round, all-weather spaces. Then the third phase is going to be to populate the top with gardens, some of which are enclosed for year-round use, some that are outdoor gardens.”

The first phase is estimated to cost around $5 million, with projections of up to $90 million for enclosing the dock and development OF indoor space.

However, it won’t use taxpayer dollars, Duehring emphasized, noting the nonprofit is pursuing grants, endowments, and donations to fund the project.

While it’s a “very uncommon” type of project, Duehring feels it’s an “uncommon opportunity” because of the ore dock’s downtown location and walkability.

Furthermore, it could have a substantial economic impact on the area while providing ecological education, year-round indoor botanical gardens, historic preservation, education, and more community spaces to the area, she said.

Because public input is a major part of the project, reception attendees were able to indicate which aspects would be “the most important impact of the project,” as this public support and input can be used while applying for various grants to fund the project, Duehring said.

The project got its start with the formation of the nonprofit in 2013. Since then, the group has had a structural analysis performed on the ore dock; clarified ore dock ownership and responsibilities with local and state agencies; changes to the bottomlands agreement approved by the city of Marquette and the Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment; applied for and received grant funding; garnered public support and input; developed the physical and 3-D models, and more, officials said.

Duehring expects the work to potentially take about 10 years, she said, noting they hope to present preliminary designs of the first phase to the city and state in the fall, then proceed with details and any needed changes.

So how can the community help? Letters of support addressed to “Whom it may concern” for general use in grant applications, input, fundraisers, and donations are all ways to contribute, she said.

“Donations (of) all sizes are helpful, they make a difference,” Duehring said. And we are looking for matching funds, because a lot of these grants require that. What that involves is a letter of commitment from a person or the company. What happens is they don’t have to give us the money until we are awarded.”

To learn more about the BotEco Center, visit www.oredockboteco.org.

For more information on Travel Marquette, visit www.travelmarquette.com.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.