The cost of history

There is a cost in keeping history alive. Grand Haven has a slew of artifacts - ranging from the vintage fighter jet at the airport, the 1223 locomotive and coal tipple near Chinook Pier, and the city clock at First Reformed Church on Washington Avenue.
Alex Doty
May 12, 2012


“I could support $25,000 per year as the ‘cost’ to taxpayers of having all of these artifacts looked after,” City Manager Pat McGinnis said. “It is really impossible to nail it down exactly. ... We need to do our best job to let others preserve artifacts."

McGinnis said that he’d like to see the city work with others to see to it that historical artifacts are cared for. This includes groups such as the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Authority and Tri-Cities Historical Museum.

McGinnis said the primary focus of City Council is to not use taxpayer dollars, but to look for volunteers to make a difference.

“I’m not diminishing their importance, but it is not our core mission,” he said. “Is being a holder of history one of the things we need to do?”

An example of volunteers spearheading a project and following it to completion was the fountain at Central Park. Instead of the city spending money on the project, McGinnis said a group called the Fountaineers helped raise money and completed the renovations.

“We didn’t spend a dollar of taxpayer money getting that done," he noted.

McGinnis said the recent installation of the Grand Haven Coast Guard boat at
Seventh Street and U.S. 31 is another example of volunteers coming together and making a project possible.

Currently, volunteers are setting their sights on other projects, including the Grand Haven lighthouses. It is estimated that it will cost $1 million to renovate the structures.

While the city has yet to officially acquire the lighthouses from the federal government, McGinnis said there is no purchase cost, and the process to obtain them was done through volunteer efforts. He did note, however, that he attends meetings for the lighthouse conservancy group on city time, mostly in the early mornings or late in the day.

“A group of us put in $750 each for incidental costs,” McGinnis said of the volunteer group.

The conservancy has already raised thousands of dollars for the maintenance and upkeep of the structures.

“We’re (the city) going to own it, but we don’t want to own it,” McGinnis said. “We will open the door to supportive philanthropy and relinquish control.”

McGinnis said the ultimate goal is to have the local volunteer group own the lighthouses.

Other items on the city’s historic artifact list in need of renovation include the coal tipple, which is initially estimated to cost $120,000; and the downtown city clock, which is estimated to cost $40,000 to restore.

Other items that the city has but has not yet identified costs for renovation includes the pier catwalk, the plane at the Grand Haven airport, sculptures donated for ArtWalk, the 1223 locomotive, and eventually the Musical Fountain.

“You look at these things strategically with a long-range lens,” McGinnis said.

To help preserve the artifacts, the city in 2004 established an artifact endowment fund that will grow interest to eventually help maintain community assets. McGinnis said the fund contains about $60,000 to $70,000, and is spinning off enough interest to buy paint and other items to maintain artifacts.

“The city is funding that when they can afford it,” McGinnis said. “We hope that endowment can grow to be a useful tool in future years.”

McGinnis noted that the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation also has funding to help preserve and maintain local history.

There is mixed reaction to whether the city or private individuals should own and maintain assets.

According to Tri-Cities Historical Museum Director Kenneth Pott, who spoke at a recent City Council work session, the assets could be used to bring tourism dollars to the area. Within the coming year, he said an historic preservation master plan will be developed that will be used to help identify and develop assets for heritage tourism.

“They are the kind of people you want to bring to your community,” Pott said of heritage tourists.

And Pott said the area is ripe for heritage tourism possibilities.

“There’s virtually nothing that you have to do other than market what is here,” he said.


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