Sunday, April 20, 2014

North Wind Scoops, Baldini Files, Sisters Invest, and Golfers Don Snowshoes

Unless you're part of the NMU community, you may not have noticed it, but the student newspaper, the North Wind, has broken three major stories in the last couple of weeks.

First, the arrest of the former student body president, Amber Lopota, for embezzlement.

Next, the disciplining of an NMU football coach and adjunct professor, Karl Maslowski, for repeatedly missing classes and soliciting students to buy an energy supplement.

And most recently, the suspension of ten NMU football players for failing a drug test.

Those are big stories, some of which were eventually picked up by the mainstream media in town, others of which were simply ignored.

 The North Wind, with a staff of 14 students and a circulation of 5000, is showing remarkable aggressiveness and enterprise...and independence. If the stories don't reflect well on the university, tough luck. That's what good journalism is all about.

Seems like the mainstream media, utterly devoted to protecting the bottom line, placating their advertisers and maintaining good relations with the institutions in town, could learn a thing or two from the students.
Tuesday is the deadline for local candidates running this fall.

A few big names have already filed. Tom Baldini, a former aide to Congressman Bart Stupak and a longtime political leader in town, has filed for City Commission, along with retired physician Mike Conley, Craig Miller and Russell Kangas.

The Bureau of Light and Power, which has generated some controversy and dismay over its vision for the future, has drawn former mayor Tom Tourville as a candidate, as well as Chuck Wanberg and John Braamse.

The County Commission so far features a race between attorney Steve Pence and former mayor Johnny DePetro in District One, and NMU professor Dwight Brady and Randall Yelle in District Six.  All are Democrats.

The lone Republican to file so far has been Justin Carlson in District Two. He'll oppose Democrat Joseph Derocha.

Democratic incumbents Bruce Heikkila and Gerry Corkin, and attorney Bill Nordeen are so far running unopposed. Expect more candidates to file by the Tuesday deadline.

What happened to the supposed block of candidates advocating decriminalization of marijuana in the city? Good question. Maybe it was all talk, no follow-through.

Remember the Grove, the little restaurant on US-41 south of Marquette? Well, it's coming back to life.

It's new name is Root 41 Food and Spirits, a word play on its location and its ties to the community.

The entrepreneurs are sisters Sarah and Barbara Tullila, both of Negaunee. Together they share 25 years in the food service industry and a dream to provide what they call classy comfort food to the community.

They're re-doing the inside and outside. Lots of sweat equity, tons of enthusiasm. Of course, they're bucking the odds. Most restaurants, unless they're well capitalized, don't make it past the first couple of years.

Here's hoping the Tullila sisters make it.

They hope to open in late May.

More sister news, and this time it concerns the former Backroom on Front Street. You know, the place that was raided and closed down two years ago because of bath salts sales?

Three sisters, former residents of Marquette, returned to town for the sled dog races a couple of months ago, took a look at the shuttered, sad-looking building and decided this was something they had to do: buy it, renovate it, and open it up for both residential and retail use.

The sisters (who would have been known as the White girls back in the Eighties) have since scattered to other parts of the country but have retained their roots here in Marquette. Sara now lives in the DC/Annapolis area, Anne's in Houston, and Katy's in New York.

They hope to begin the renovations this summer and they'd welcome ideas for possible retail tenants.

Welcome back, ladies.

As for the Bayou in Harvey, its microbrewery (Chocolay River Brewery) should be serving up its first glass of craft beer by mid-June.

Its equipment is mostly installed with minor adjustments being made.

Once everything's set, it'll take three weeks for the first drinkable suds to be produced.

So plan on sampling the fare from Marquette's fourth microbrewery on about June 15th.

That'll be just about the time the last of the snow has melted.

Speaking of which.

Marc Gilmore, the pro at Marquette Golf Club, said last Friday that they're hoping to open up the driving range this coming Friday.

At that point, you might have wondered what he was smoking. You might also have suggested that the golfers wear snowshoes.


After this weekend's melt, Gilmore looks like he's on to something. We got a heat wave coming this week--40s! Even 50s!!--so the range could very well be clear by Friday.

The opening of the Heritage and Greywalls courses is still up in the air. Along with a reluctant sun which still needs to burn through a couple feet of snow on some shaded parts of both golf courses.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Consternation at Marquette Mountain and the CVB, Anticipation at WJMN, and Renovation at the Casa

Vern Barber, the longtime general manager at Marquette Mountain, is heading to snowier slopes.

Mount Bohemia in the Keweenaw, specifically.

After 32 years at Marquette Mountain, he's looking for a new challenge at a unique venue (extreme skiing, ungroomed slopes) with the potential for growth. That's what Bohemia offers.

No hard feelings here, he says, it's just time to move on.

Was the issue compensation? He wouldn't "go there."

This last ski season was a tough one here. Extremely cold temperatures kept attendance down for much of the winter although the last three weeks were pretty good.

Barber will face a different kind of a challenge at Bohemia--they need more lodging in a more remote location than Marquette--but it's the kind of challenge he welcomes at this point of his career. And, he says, Bohemia is his kind of skiing.

Good luck to him. And thanks.

More losses for Marquette tourism.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau recently lost its PR and marketing director, Allison Silk, to the Mackinac Island CVB. Silk had been considered the likely successor to Pat Black, the CVB director who's retiring at the end of this year.

So that means there's a vaccum at the top in an industry that needs to continue showing growth in Marquette County.

A search is now underway for Silk's successor who ultimately might be Black's successor.

The big loss, of course, will be Black, who is Ms. Tourism for Marquette County. She knows and charms everyone in the tourist industry, in the state and far beyond.

In her retirement, she's planning to travel--for pure pleasure, not for business. She's earned it.

Any day now, you can expect to see a new local newscast on your TV screens at 6 and 11 pm.

Preparations continue at the new WJMN studio and offices, just off US-41 in Marquette Township. Some of the staff have moved in, they're working with their new computers and getting acclimated to their new surroundings.

Two months ago, management guaranteed the newscasts would start in April. News Director Cynthia Thompson says that remains the plan, though she wouldn't get specific.

They've got their equipment, the news cars are in the lot, the news staff (about 10, less than half the size of TV6's staff) are arriving to begin their careers in the UP.

Interestingly, one of the most important rating periods for local TV stations is May. WJMN, no doubt, will try to make a big promotional splash when it starts its newscasts but certainly can't have expectations of a major ratings impact in May.

Many UP viewers will sample the new newscasts but will likely return to
the tried and trusted Steve Asplund, Karl Bohnak, Greg Trick and Mike Ludlum on TV6 at 6 and 11. Fifty years of history is a lot to overcome.

WJMN will have to be in it for the long run.

Casa Calabria is certainly in it for the long run.

The popular Italian eatery on Third Street, one of the biggest restaurants in the city (seating for 188), is now finishing off major renovations of both the restaurant and bar.

New booths, tables, chairs, stone walls, pillars, wallpaper, floors, bar stools. That's just about everything. It's the first major renovation for the Casa since 1995.

Sometimes, even when you're popular, you gotta freshen things up.

The result is a new, Old World look, if that makes sense. Clean, fresh, casual, comfortable, classy.

The Casa never closed down during the construction period. They just worked at it during the day, then swept up, and started cooking.

Smart. That's a good way to keep the customers...and the revenue...streaming in.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

SmartZone Fast-Track, Hospital Silence, L'Attitude Makeover, and Margaritaville at Coco's

Marquette's plan for its SmartZone is on the fast-track.

City manager Bill Vajda expects to have the SmartZone application submitted to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation by May.

The decision on exactly what to do and where and how would be made in June.

And then work begins in July.Yeah, that would be fast-track.

The project will bring in and nurture new technology-based companies, something all cities dream about. The focus here in Marquette would likely be health sciences (NMU's strength) and agricultural sciences (Michigan State).

The original SmartZone in the UP, of course, is the one started by Michigan Tech. Tech, along with Houghton and Hancock, as well as NMU and Michigan State, are all playing a part in planning for Marquette's SmartZone.

We want good, forward-looking jobs in Marquette? We may have found them.

Silence on the hospital relocation front.

Vajda says he's heard nothing recently from the site-selection folks, and Randy Girard, the Marquette Township manager, says it's been almost two weeks since he's had conversations with them.

The site-selection officials did their local groundwork a few weeks back, then retired to their offices back in Nashville. Best guess is they'll come up with their recommendation for the future site of MGH and forward it to Duke LifePoint within 30-45 days, and then Duke LifePoint will make its momentous decision.

A tidy little $290 million dollars is on the line for the two contenders for the site--the city of Marquette and the Township--along with the prestige of being home of the biggest and most important hospital in the UP.

Girard says, regardless of the decision, the Township will continue to grow at 7-10% a year. There's plenty of land, and people and businesses want to locate there. The big box stores are clear evidence of that.

Downtown, there have been rumors that things were a little shaky at L'Attitude and Elizabeth's Chop House.

Couldn't be further from the truth, according to co-owner Tommy Wahlstrom.

Take a look at the newly refurnished L'Attitude. New booths, new chairs, new bar stools, new artwork. Impressive and much, much more comfortable.

Up next, a new 30 foot long heater to be suspended from the ceiling on the outside patio. Nice. It'll make those 52 degree days outside bearable. The heater arrives this week. Also coming up, new tube lighting and a new menu.

What's been  the impact of the new restaurant, Sol Azteca, upstairs? Not surprisingly, it's increased the liquor revenue at L'Attitude because the Mexican restaurant doesn't have a liquor license yet.

As for the Wahlstroms' other restaurant, Elizabeth's Chop House, 2013 was the best year yet. Marquette's most expensive and arguably classiest restaurant has struggled through the recession years, like just about every other restaurant in town, but last year was a breakthrough. This year should be even better.

That's good news for fine diners in Marquette.

More restaurant news.

Coco's, just across the street from McCarty's Cove and Picnic Rocks, is taking a turn toward Margaritaville, UP style. It's busting out a wall on the north side of the building, installing a 900 square foot deck that'll be shaded from the direct sun, and then lining up bands on the deck this summer. They'll play Thursday through Sunday.

They're also considering bringing in a few truckloads of sand and setting up a volleyball court on site.

And they're starting a remodeling of their bar this month.

Finally, it seems, Coco's is taking advantage of its unique and attractive location just across the street from the beach.

You may have noticed that Fox UP, TV6's junior partner in the WLUC duopoly, has a new anchor, just in from the University of Maryland.

He's Ben Oldach. He's young but he has a pleasant look with a nice voice and carries more authority than you might expect from a rookie. His hairdo, featuring a big wave on top along with sideburns, seems a little retro, but hairdos come and go every half century or so.

The Fox UP newscast, at 10 pm, has never drawn much of an audience. It's actually pretty good and it features an early dose of meteorologist Karl Bohnak if you don't feel like waiting up until 11 pm.

Overheard at Babycakes this week: a job interview with an NMU graduate who went on to get his PhD at the University of Leeds in medieval history.

He's back in town hoping to land a job as a barista.

The message here? We need (and value) baristas more than we need medieval historians.

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