Developing Dilemma

MACKINAC ISLAND (AP) – Northern Michigan’s Mackinac Island, which bans cars and yet draws 900,000 visitors each year, is facing key decisions about the development of its tourism industry, which is the island’s lifeblood.

The island’s Historic District Commission on Monday rejected a plan by the developers of the recently opened Bicycle Street Inn & Suites on Main Street to build two other hotels on the island that would, among other things, require the destruction of a former fudge shop.

The developers, Melanie Libby and Ira Green, had requested a waiver that would have allowed them to circumvent certain historical preservation rules that they said would pose an economic hardship, but the commission rejected the request.

Libby said she and Green are trying to balance development and preservation goals. She said they are hoping to find a way to proceed with the two new hotels.

“It is for us a legacy project,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “We looked at it and truly believe it will enhance the Mackinac experience. … We are trying to work out a compromise that gives a balance between a number of visions for that area.”

Eighty percent of the 3.8-square-mile island in the straits between lakes Michigan and Huron is a state park, and the entire island is classified as a National Historic Landmark.

Libby and Green have had other business interests on the island for 20 years, including managing the historic Lake View Hotel and renting out bicycles. They say that decrepit structures on Mackinac Island need to be torn down and replaced by sounder buildings that contain modern amenities demanded by wealthy tourists, or those tourists will go elsewhere.

They paid $5 million for the site of their proposed Main Dock Inn project.

But state preservationist Amy Arnold said the proposed development would gut the island’s historic character.

“When you actually look at the plans, it’s shocking,” said Arnold, a preservation planner for Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office. “Do they want to be Mackinaw City or Mackinac Island?” ”We feel they are undermining the historic district by creating fake historic buildings that look like Disneyland.”

Andrew Doud, chairman of the Historic District Commission, said he hopes a solution is found.

“We denied it on the grounds of economic hardship, but we were open to accepting it if (the) council thought it was for the greater good,” Doud said.

Bob Benser Jr., the president of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau who owns or co-owns two island businesses, said he sees both visions.

“Buildings that are structurally sound, we should renovate, but some of the buildings downtown are not,” he said. “To me, there was a time when the town was a little bit junky,” he said. “For the most part, the island looks as good as it ever has.”