Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Restaurant Sale, Farm Sale, Costco Rumors, and TV News Changes

BIG CHANGES ON the restaurant scene in Marquette. The latest? The Union Grill on US 41 has been sold to the owners of the Steinhaus, the German restaurant downtown.
No, that doesn't mean the Steinhaus, with a growing and enthusiastic clientele, is moving. It's staying right where it is.
Justin Fairbanks, the chef and owner of the Steinhaus, says the Union Grill location will be used to prep food for the Steinhaus, and also for catering and special events, as well as the processing of local meats. The Steinhaus is big on that.
But there's more. The new location (no name yet) will also open for lunch and will also retail meats, cheeses and specialty foods. Marquette foodies are jumping for joy.
But wait, there's more!
Fairbanks and his family have also bought the Dancing Crane Farm in Skandia. He'll now have a ready supply of local produce (though they're not yet set up for winter crops) and a coffee roaster. 
In economics, they call this "vertical integration." In culinary circles, they call it "farm to table" or "farm to fork."
Whatever, it's an exciting and possibly game-changing development for the restaurant business in Marquette.
SO PROBUILD IS closing down in the middle of November. No surprise, given the intense competition for builders and contractors at that location on US-41. Lowes and Menards are literally a (long) stone's throw away.

Now begins the speculation on who might move into that prime spot.

In the lead, early on, is Costco. That rumor is rampant. Marquette Township officials have heard it but know nothing about it. Costco corporate officials in Washington state are saying nothing about it and wouldn't say anything, anyway, until they got permits.

It does seem that the ProBuild site might be a little small for a Costco, doesn't it?

Also in the running on the rumor circuit is a Meijer hyperstore. There are 100 of them downstate. Why not one in Marquette Township?

Oh, there's also the perennial rumor about the Olive Garden moving in.

And this just in! Saks Fifth Avenue is moving to the ProBuild site! No, wait, it's Bloomingdale's!

YOU MAY HAVE noticed the big tent that's sprouted up next to Coco's.

Turns out it's for a big Halloween party this Saturday night. Everyone's invited (in costume preferably) and reportedly at least 200 revelers are expected.

Don't worry, it'll be fully enclosed, with heaters inside. To say nothing of the body heat that'll be generated.
More important, perhaps, is that the tent will go up again next spring as a new wedding venue in Marquette. Coco's management says they already have two weddings booked for the summer.

Coco's, by the way, had been up for sale for well over a year. No takers at the asking price. Owner Jackie Gonda (with her husband Patrick) took it off the market a few months ago. They're staying, she insists, and expanding the restaurant's operations.

Why not? It's a huge piece of property in an ideal location, across from the beach and just down the block from the Nestledown B&B which should be opening early next summer.

TV6 HAS ADDED a new face to its 6 pm newscast.

She's Sophie Erber, fresh out of Florida. Welcome to five months of winter, Sophie, and by "winter" we don't mean 63 degrees and gloomy skies, we mean 4 degrees, 150 inches of snow, and occasional white-outs.

For now, she's co-anchoring only the six o'clock newscast with Steve Asplund but plans are for her to possibly co-anchor the 7 pm and 11 pm newscasts, as well.

So far, she comes across as attractive, poised and confident. The chemistry with the other anchors isn't quite there yet, but she certainly seems to have a future.

Suggestion: Don't let her be just a pretty face, a news "presenter." Give her serious reporting responsibilities. Investigative work maybe (something sorely lacking in the UP). Get her fingernails dirty.

TV6 would benefit, and so would she.

DOWN THE BLOCK, Greg Peterson, the new news director at ABC 10, is trying to inject a greater aggressiveness into his tiny staff of seven.

Peterson, himself, is out on the streets. A few weeks ago, he accosted Congressman Dan Benishek and quizzed him on climate change. The interview lasted for more than a minute, an eternity on local newscasts. Critics might have thought it was embarrassing and inappropriate, but it did get ABC 10 quoted in the Huffington Post.

For better or worse, it's a new day and a new approach for the UP's ABC affiliate which has had a remarkably strong web presence but woefully weak ratings for its newscasts.

Suggestion to ABC 10: Trade your $37.50 news set (also known as "Flowers in a Pot next to a Pole") to Zach Galifianakis for his Between Two Ferns set. Between Two Ferns is decidedly more attractive than what you've got now.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Democrats Are Depressed, Casperson Is Classy, Negaunee Is Spending, and Marquette Is Happy

A COUPLE OF months ago, Democrats were high on ousting incumbent Republican Dan Benishek in Michigan's First Congressional District.

They were pouring money and staff into the U.P. and northern Lower Michigan. They had an attractive, moderate candidate in Jerry Cannon who boasted law enforcement and military credentials as well as an outsider's status at a time when all of us were sick and tired of all the insiders in Washington DC.

So what the hell happened?

Word comes this week that some of the Cannon campaign staff are being pulled out and re-directed to other Democratic campaigns around the nation.

This, on top of a Roll Call report that $425,000 of anticipated pro-Cannon ads were being cancelled.

And this: Benishek has raised about twice as much cash as Cannon.

And finally this: the Rothenberg Political Report had been rating the First District race as "tilting" Republican. Now the rating is Republican "favored."

We don't have many reliable public polls up here, but apparently national Democrats have been doing some internal polling, and they're not encouraged. Thus, they're shifting some of their resources to other, apparently more promising races around the nation.

Unless the tea leaves are lying, this is shaping up as a nightmarish November for Democrats.

A NICE LITTLE display of bipartisanship in a ceremony in Marquette last week.

The Michigan Municipal League awarded its Legislator of the Year award to Republican State Senator Tom Casperson. Casperson accepted the award, but then called on Democratic State Representative John Kivela to come up and share it with him.
Casperson said he couldn't have done it without Kivela and other members of the U.P. delegation, both Democrat and Republican.

Huh? Can you imagine Nancy Pelosi calling on John Boehner to share an award with her, or Mitch McConnell singing the praises of Harry Reid?

Here's something else to consider. Kivela's a former auto mechanic, Casperson's  a former logging truck driver, State Rep Ed McBroom is a dairy farmer, and State Rep Scott Dianda was a heavy equipment operator.

Not a lawyer in the bunch, no Ivy League educations, either. They're Yoopers from different parties who disagree on many issues but they get along. Actually like each other. Maybe there's a lesson there.

DON'T LOOK NOW, but Ishpeming is slowly re-shaping its image, building by building.

Aided by grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, developers are spending more than a half million dollars on re-doing the facades and interiors of four buildings downtown.

The biggest is the Gossard Building, formerly known as Pioneer Square. Years ago, it was a factory manufacturing women's undergarments; now it's a remarkably attractive home to about fifteen businesses--some of them artsy and entrepreneurial.

Developer Paul Arsenault is hoping the building, which honors its historical roots, will infuse a youthful, artistic energy into downtown Ishpeming.

He'll need some help. The town has some dedicated developers and businessmen and women, but driving through downtown, you're still going to see plenty of vacant, if not dilapidated, storefronts, and hardly a pedestrian on the sidewalks.

Maybe the Gossard is a sign of things to come. Who wouldn't want to see the revival of a once thriving downtown Ishpeming?


Here's one of the latest. CreditDonkey, a bizarrely named website offering consumers financial news and advice, has just listed the Top Ten Happiest Cities in Michigan (population over 20,000).

Marquette placed eighth. Walker took first, Midland second and Allen Park third.

So you're asking, How do you determine who's happy?

CreditDonkey (seriously, change the name) listed several criteria including crime rate, household income, divorce rate, commute times...and the number of restaurants in town per inhabitant. Yes, we are generally going to be happier if we have more dining choices when we go out.

Here's the kicker: Of the top ten cities, Marquette had the most restaurants per capita. To be exact, we boast one restaurant for every 303 residents.

No surprise, we also had the shortest average commute time--12 minutes--and one of the lowest crime rates--one violent crime for every 1025 inhabitants.

YOU MAY HAVE seen Gale LaJoye working out recently at the YMCA in Marquette. Our world-renowned performance artist (clown? mime? silent actor?) is whipping himself into shape for what promises to be a grueling 48 show run at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis next January and February.

It's the longest run at a single venue LaJoye's ever done. Apparently, after 25 years, there's still a huge demand to see his one man show, "Snowflake",
based on a simple, decent man who used to walk the streets of Marquette. Audiences from Japan to Mexico and from Hong Kong to Great Britain have given him standing ovations.

LaJoye, who's 64, says his body is still holding up after all these shows--1500 and counting--but he's now convinced that next year will be the last for "Snowflake." Of course, he's said that for the last six years as well, but this time, he really means it. Really.

Regardless, he expects the final show, appropriately enough, to be here in Marquette. And then, eschewing retirement, LaJoye says he'll move on to something else. When you're a performance artist, what are you gonna do? Sit on your butt?

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Marquette Displayed, Heavy Hitters Pitched, Rowers Relieved, and Liquor License Denied

TOO BAD ABOUT the wet and blustery weather this week because Marquette is on display before 1000 of  Michigan's movers and shakers.

You may have noticed them on the streets and in the restaurants, bars and hotel lobbies--members of the Michigan Municipal League. They're politicians, city officials and lobbyists from all over the state. Only rarely do they venture this far north for their convention.

In a very real sense, Marquette is a poster child for city revitalization and can provide lessons for other languishing cities and towns.

You don't have to go back very far--30 or 40 years--to remember when Marquette's waterfront was an industrial slum and its downtown was all but dead. Today? A brilliant and striking contrast.

The often unappreciated partnership between government and private enterprise has led the way.

THE MUNICIPAL LEAGUE has just published  a book, The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities, and no surprise, several pages are devoted to the turnaround in Marquette.

A quote: "Today, the city of Marquette essentially owns and controls its entire waterfront, a fact that has had a profound impact on its sense of place as a scenic waterfront community."

The book goes on to praise the city's brownfield cleanup, its embrace of its historical heritage while welcoming new development, and its promotion of the city as an outdoors community flush with bike trails everywhere.

Also mentioned: brew pubs ("Brew pubs have just gone nuts here"), the Landmark Inn ("History and architecture buffs have made it a favorite spot on the circuit of national historic hotels"), the remarkably popular and sold-out Beerfest ("The only problem might be too much success"), and the Vierling ("They actually still walk down to the harbor each day and get the fish fresh off the dock").

We've got a lot to boast about. Now, if we could just do something about the rain and the wind. And the icebergs in the harbor on May 30th.

A NEW CHAPTER on the city's future was being written this week at M Bank on Washington Street.

About twenty heavy hitters (annual income of $200,000 or net worth of $1,000,000) gathered to hear a pitch to become angel investors in Marquette's new Smartzone.

Angel investors invest in small, start-up companies in need of cash.

The Smartzone, with substantial financial incentives for high tech entrepreneurs, will be taking shape over the next six months throughout the city.

You like high tech? You like taking a bit of a gamble on smart people with new ideas? You like investing locally? You got an extra 50 grand burning a hole in your pocket? This is an opportunity to make a difference to your net worth, and to your hometown.

WE DON'T WANT to jump the gun on this but it sure looks like the once controversial and much delayed boathouse on Lake Superior, near the Hampton Inn, will become a reality within a few years.

The Marquette Planning Commission and the City Commission have now approved the plan to lease the boathouse to the Upper Peninsula Community Rowing Club.

Issues may still crop up but it appears that final approval of the rezoning of the site by the City Commission is all that remains. That should come at its October 27th meeting, just before the next election which, with new members, could have thrown the entire issue into doubt.

What you're hearing now is a collective sigh of relief from the rowers who've been planning this for four years and struggling to get it through the City Commission for eighteen months.

Most of the criticism died when the UPCRC agreed to build the boathouse but let the city maintain ownership of the property.

One teeny, tiny obstacle remains. The club has to raise a paltry $600,000 over the next few years to build the boathouse. Here's a guess: these women (and the club, for some reason, is mostly women) will do it ahead of schedule. They're a smart, tenacious, and well-connected bunch.

SO YOU STILL can't order a Corona with your burrito at Sol Azteca?

Nope. Management at the Mexican restaurant which opened since last winter (sans alcohol) bought a liquor license a few months back from a Gwinn business, but has still not gotten state approval to actually sell liquor.

The food's been good and inexpensive but management is frustrated because they're losing money. They say several tourists have sat down to order, then gotten up and left upon learning that alcohol wasn't on the menu.

Here's the back story. Sol Azteca management has gone to State Representative John Kivela looking for help. Kivela inquired and learned the Liquor Control Commission has denied the restaurant's application for a liquor license. No reason was given to Kivela.

Now the license denial is going through the appeal process. No word yet on when that will be completed.

So Sol Azteca has a liquor license but they can't use it, at least not yet.

In the meantime, they'll ply you with soft drinks and water. Yum.

CONTRARY TO EXPECTATIONS a few months ago, the tiny but much loved Huron Earth Deli on South Third Street is still open.

The owner thought she would close down and complete the sale of the building to an out-of-state couple within a few weeks.

It's taken longer than anticipated but the sale is still going to happen. Meantime, Huron Earth Deli's doors are still open with a limited inventory, including its near legendary crawfish chowder.

The new owners, by the way, will be also operating a food-related business on the site. That's good news for the neighborhood, certainly a better choice than a dental office or an auto supply shop. Or a bar.

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