Gold in the Water: Local Partners Unite to Make Traverse City a Global Leader in Fresh Water
Fresh water is the new gold.
For years, experts have predicted that eventually clean, fresh water will take its place as the planet’s most precious resource. Today, a team of players from across the Grand Traverse region and beyond are coming together to pursue a common mission: to position Traverse City as the global epicenter of freshwater research. These players – including Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), Discovery Center & Pier, Traverse Connect, 20Fathoms and Michigan Technological University – have a grand vision to transform Discovery Pier on West Grand Traverse Bay into an 85,000 square foot, 60 million facility. dollars. this would include not only a public jetty, but also research labs, classrooms and seminar rooms, a startup incubator, and more.
The new Freshwater Research Center would be “the hub for education, research, development, and commercialization of freshwater and marine technologies and their applications affecting the Great Lakes and natural systems.” ‘similar freshwater around the world’, according to an overview of the project compiled by the partners. . A section of the facility would house several types of “high-tech lab space and equipment,” including wet labs and computer research and simulation labs. Other parts of the building would be earmarked for educational purposes, including classrooms, seminar space and an auditorium – to support both NMC classes and “speaking and engagement events/ large-scale community learning”. The facility would also include administrative offices, startup incubation and acceleration space, a “maker/tinkerer” space for small business development and ongoing research support, and dock space. ‘barrier-free’ working area, similar to what currently exists at Discovery Quai (pictured).
Hans Van Sumeren, director of the Institute for Great Lakes Water Studies at the NMC, admits that the launch of this multimillion-dollar project will be a huge boost and that it will not happen overnight. the following day. Right now, NMC and its partners have “several different demands that are out there” for project funding, both state and federal.
“I think it’s a $3 million request that the senator [Wayne] Schmidt supports [at the state level]that would directly support the development of the Discovery Center Pier and all of those ancillary pieces that are critical to establishing the center in this accessible space along the water,” Van Sumeren said. The ticker. “And then there’s a request for $40 million to $50 million through federal channels, and that would be for the development of commercial facilities, and for this idea of actually creating the space.”
How these public funding efforts materialize will affect the design and vision of the Freshwater Research Center. The current concept, says Van Sumeren, is the result of each partner “making up our wish lists” for what the center might include.
“With any new development, we’ll have to adapt the look of our facility based on the actual funding we see,” says Van Sumeren. “And of course, beyond these federal and state dollars, there are also philanthropic and other investment opportunities that we will pursue. So nothing is final yet. We are very early in this process. We’re just trying to organize it so we’ll be ready when those opportunities arise.
Van Sumeren been talking for years on Traverse City’s potential to be a world leader in freshwater research, as influential local leaders like Casey Cowell have done. But the actual partnership behind the vision of a true freshwater research center is a more recent development. As the various organizations involved began to establish other points of alliance – such as articulation agreements between Michigan Tech and NMC, or Michigan Tech’s decision to open an office last fall in the Traverse Connect building – conversations about a larger all-hands effort on the warmed-up deck. These partnerships are now making progress in growing Traverse City’s profile as a hub for marine technology and freshwater research, though it may be years before a true headquarters of these efforts does not exist on the Discovery Pier site.
“We can truly become the national center of freshwater expertise in technologies that are in development or being positioned for commercial distribution,” says Van Sumeren.
What would that look like? Essentially, this would make Traverse City ground zero for the development, testing, and commercialization of technologies that prove crucial to the future understanding and protection of freshwater ecosystems and resources. Sophisticated sensors to detect algae, E. coli or any other water contamination; To better understand invasive species and their potential long-term impacts on the Great Lakes, the possibilities for a locally anchored freshwater research center are, as Van Sumeren admits, “pretty broad.” These results would bring new economic opportunities and money to the region, but they also have the potential to be a game-changer as the importance of freshwater resources continues to grow.
Van Sumeren sees Traverse City’s prospect of becoming a world leader in freshwater research through a simple question: “If not us, who?”
“We already have a lot of tangible things in place that make us the perfect candidate to take on this role,” says Van Sumeren. “First, we are in the middle of the Great Lakes, geographically speaking. This means that we are not on the periphery when it comes to access [to the water]. For example, it’s no one’s fault that Michigan Tech is far enough away, but they readily say that sometimes it’s hard for them to attract freshwater researchers or contractors. [to Houghton]. Second, we are an area where fresh water truly defines us. I don’t know if you could say Cleveland or Detroit are defined by fresh water, but we definitely are. Third, we are not a big metropolis, where things can be absorbed by the noise of everything going on. I think of Chicago this way.
“Finally, we have the partnerships. We can inspire people to come here for educational opportunities, but also attract corporate partners to try out new ideas in an incubator space, or to work with Michigan Tech researchers on sensor development. With all of these pieces, we believe we can be the community that supports the technologies needed to improve Great Lakes and freshwater bodies around the world… Traverse City is the perfect place to make it happen.