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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Monday, March 31, 2014

Cliffs Demotion, Clark's Devotion, and a Bloody Mary Potion

Talk about a slap in the face.

The U.P.'s favorite mining company, Cliffs Natural Resources, got word last week that, effective April 1st, it will no longer be listed on the prestigious S&P 500 stock exchange.

It's being demoted down to the S&P midcap 400. That's an exchange that, frankly, most casual investors have never even heard of.

Why the demotion? Cliffs is just not worth as much as it used to be, what with its stock price struggling to climb above $20.

Anybody remember the days when the conventional wisdom around here was you'd never lose on Cliffs stock, and you'd likely get rich on it? Yeah, well, times have changed.

The stock price has been languishing for years, Cliffs management just recently had to deal with hostile takeover attempt by an activist hedge fund, and now the company's been booted down to the minor leagues of stock exchanges.

The good news in all this? The Empire mine is staying open and the U.P. is keeping hundreds of well-paying jobs. At least for now.

Clark Park--or the Clark Lambros Beach Park as it will officially be known--is one step closer to reality.

Both the state senate and the house have now passed appropriations bills that include funding of the park. Minor differences in the bills have to be ironed out, which should be no problem, and then the bill goes to Governor Snyder for his signature.

It's a helluva deal for Marquette, thanks to longtime businessman Clark Lambros, who died more than a year ago, and his partner, Michele Butler.

Clark wanted the park. Michele is making it happen.

With the help of the DNR Trust Fund, Clark and Michele are giving 17 acres of property at the confluence of the Dead River and Lake Superior to the city. Twelve of the acres will go the park; the adjacent five acres will go to a trail system.

Seventeen acres worth somewhere around $1.5 million. Yeah, that's a nice little gift.

It'll include rest rooms, showers, a pavilion, picnic tables, barbeque grills and a kayak launch.

Planning and design details still have to be worked out with the city, but Butler hopes the project will be finished by late fall.

Lambros is one of those people who made Marquette the very special city that it is today.                                     

That empty space at Peter White Public Library that Tu Kaluthia used to fill is getting a new tenant within a month.

The new café? Paladino's.

It'll be the creation of Andrew Sear, the current chef at the Irish Rover and former chef at Capers. He's planning on offering soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts and coffee.

Finally, after a four month hiatus, we'll have some nourishment and aromas at the library.

Sear, by the way, has even grander plans. He, along with roofer and developer Dan Perkins, is hoping to open up a "healthy comfort food restaurant" in Ishpeming within the year. The exact site is not yet determined.

Sear is also involved in plans for a multi-acre produce garden with green houses in Ishpeming.

Exciting plans. We'll see if they pan out.

It's becoming the "it" spot to be on Sunday mornings.

The Northland Pub at the Landmark Inn has been offering Bloody Mary Sundays for the last few months--make-your-own-Bloody-Marys, along with a jazz duo from 11 to 3.

A great combination.

How do you make a Bloody Mary? Well, lessee, here are some of the ingredients: celery, carrots, pickled onions, pickled beans, pickled mushrooms, pickled asparagus, cheese, red and green peppers, fiery olives and bacon. Bacon? Hell yeah, drop a couple strips in your Bloody Mary.

Basically, it's a buffet to help you purge the demons from the night before.

If you're not a sports fan, you probably haven't noticed, but ESPN UP, which is sports talk radio here, has made some changes lately.

Ryan Mayer is the lone host on the Sports Pen on weekday afternoons. It used to be two hosts who tried--often in vain--to engage listeners calling in. You kinda felt sorry for them because it was a beg-fest at times. Please call in! Here's our phone number for the 42nd time this hour!

Mayer says he's not going to beg.  He'll welcome calls if they come in but otherwise he'll rely on scheduled interviews with sports figures and journalists, as well as input from the audience via social media.

Is the new format successful? No way of knowing. Listener ratings in the UP are notoriously unreliable.

One thing ESPN UP does have to clean up, though, is its recorded one minute clips from previous shows that it continues to play over and over and over again. Two weeks ago, they played a clip from the Colin Cowherd show in which he rated his top 10 teams from midway through the NFL season. That was back in November!

A couple of days ago, they played a segment of an analyst back in January telling us who might win the gold medal in hockey in the Olympics.

Enough. Show some respect for your audience.

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