Grand Haven City Council members were split Monday on whether to make changes to a local piece of history.
On the agenda was consideration to install arched double doorways in the water-side of the Grand Trunk Depot. The motion was approved 3-2, with councilmen Bob Monetza and Mike Fritz voting against it
Without money set aside for this project, City Manager Pat McGinnis said the city will be looking to philanthropists to fund the work needed for the depot’s interior and exterior. Monday night was part of the infancy stage of a journey just getting underway, he said.
“The building has been under the city’s control for a couple of years now and we would like to do a preservation/renovation project to try to take care of a number of things that are wrong with the building that need attention,” McGinnis said. “We have 2 million people walk past this building every year. There are more people coming, seeing and visiting this building than ever before, so let’s get them inside the building and let them appreciate the historical significance and understand a little more of what we used to be.”
McGinnis said if work is carefully done, the building can be preserved with the modern touch of the arched double doorways, which could lead the depot to be a more active and vital space, while also retaining its historic significance.
“You can have an active, vibrant new use in a historic building. I think that’s very true,” said Monetza, noting the ArtWalk activities that were recently hosted in the space. “People walk by because there is nothing happening – that’s largely because we haven’t done anything since we got the building from the museum. It’s not because of the way the doors and windows are shaped, it’s because there is nothing there to do.”
Monetza said when the building itself is an artifact and is such a fundamental piece of the city and is so fully intact, a solution should be found that doesn’t change the facade.
“I see a building that’s just crying out to be used but not so thoroughly modified,” he said. “Let’s fix up the interior.”
Fritz agreed with Monetza, saying if the council wants to do something with the building, it should be to clean up the inside.
“There are things that need to be done inside first before we start worrying about what it looks like on the outside,” Fritz said. “I think the outside is beautiful. If you want it to be vibrant, get people in there.”
During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, Marsha Peterson spoke against the double doorways. The president of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum Board of Directors and chairwoman of the city’s Historic Conservation District Commission said the commission would like to see the City Council maintain the history of the building.
“We have gotten many communications in the last few days … because people are really concerned about the idea of cutting two sets of double doors into a 150-year-old building that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places,” she said. “We think we should consider alternatives to cutting out parts of the building.”
Peterson gave examples, including a sidewalk cafe, and believes the building will complement the adjacent Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium when work is finished.
“I appreciate the passion this building creates,” said Mayor Geri McCaleb, noting she would like to see how the changes in opening the back of the building could marry with the openness of the stadium and open up the waterfront. “With the bleachers gone, we have the opportunity to open this building up and use it to its full potential.”
The mayor said nothing has been established yet except that some council members would like to open up the back of the depot to provide a better vista of the stadium and the Grand River.
“This is just a concept, not the final design,” Councilman Dennis Scott said. “I’m in favor of it. I think it would be a great addition to the waterfront like this, to open that building up a bit and make it a lot more user-friendly.”
Councilman Josh Brugger spoke to either side of Monday’s decision, but ultimately voted for the arched double doorways, saying that of the designs the council has seen, he has liked this one the best.
“Is this perfect? Absolutely not. But it’s moving in the right direction,” Brugger said. “I think this is part two of opening Waterfront Stadium.”