The Gamechangers, Part 5: New School Loyalties and Revitalized Properties
It may seem like the 1990s were only yesterday, but today marks 22 years and four months since any of us could really party like it was 1999. As we move away from the last decade of the 20th century, it becomes clearer which milestones had the most enduring impacts on where we call home. Here are two of the biggest.
1997: The Traverse City Senior High Division
In the 1990s, Traverse City Senior High was one of the largest high schools in the state. It was also packed, with crowded hallways and overcrowded classrooms. Between 1985 and 1993, enrollment hovered between 2,850 and 3,100. In 1994, the school reached a record high of 3,215 students – a record it immediately broke the following year when enrollment increased north of 3,300. For perspective, Traverse City Central High School — which continues to operate in the former Traverse City Senior High building — currently has about 1,400 students.
With school facilities at breaking point, conversations at PTA meetings turned to the only logical solution: building a second high school. On June 12, 1995, the community approved a $54 million bond proposal, including $25 million for the construction of West Senior High.
The 1997–98 school year ended up being the split year, though it was hardly a clean break. The original plan was for construction of the new school to be completed in the summer of 1997. Instead, significant delays forced the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) to repeatedly push back the opening.
Traverse City West Senior High officially opened its doors to students on Monday, January 26, 1998. So far in the year, West and Central students have continued to share the Traverse City Senior High building – although they were divided into different classrooms based on their ultimate enrollment destinations.
By giving Traverse City its first true intercity rivalry, the school split created a new dynamic in the local culture that continues to this day. The city had a new type of divide, symbolized by the road (Division Street) which marked the boundary of registration. Students who lived east of the division went to Central; those west of the line went west. Just like that, the city split into Trojans and Titans – the schools’ respective mascots – and the schools themselves had to develop their own identities and strengths.
A former Facebook group, created for former students of the former Traverse City High School, noted that the schools’ split “created a very real divide in our city,” with members yearning for “how integrated the community was. and welded”. when there was only one public high school.
Of course, school rivalries can also make for fun and friendly competition, and Central and West have had their fair share of thrilling matchups since going their separate ways. The history of the Central-West football rivalry is particularly fascinating. Prior to the school split, the Trojans were a Michigan high school football powerhouse, with three state titles to their name. But most of football’s top players headed west when the new school opened, leading to an 0-9 season for Central and some concern that the program would never recover.
The Titans routed the Trojans 42-6 in their inaugural meeting in the fall of 1997 and won four straight encounters before Central won their first victory in 2001. After 10 years of football rivalry, West held a dominant lead of 8-2. . But the Trojans have since repaid West for those early years, winning eight of the last 10 incarnations of their Thirlby Field rivalry game – known today as the “Patriot Game”. Heading into the 2022 football season, the two teams have met 27 times and the wins are tied 14-13 in favor of the Titans.
1997: Grand Traverse County establishes its Brownfield Redevelopment Authority
Part of the reason Traverse City was able to become Northern Michigan’s largest population cluster was its status throughout the 20th century as an industrial center. While the city had been built on a timber boom, it shifted into food processing, manufacturing, shipping, and other industries over the years. Unfortunately, these industries also meant that, in the 1990s, Traverse City was a town haunted by the specters of its past. Many factories, canneries and depots that had once been central to the region’s thriving industrial economy had long since closed, and many of the inactive sites where these relics were located were contaminated by years of poor environmental practices.
Today, the vast majority of these decrepit sites have been cleaned up, redeveloped and revitalized, and all thanks to a push in the mid-1990s to bring brownfield redevelopment dollars to Traverse City.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began looking at brownfield sites in 1992, defining the term “brownfield” as a property where “expansion, redevelopment, or reuse…may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Grand Traverse County was home to many brownfields in the late 20th century. According to a 2010 EPA report, the state of Michigan had identified “124 hazardous substance sites and 137 petroleum sites” throughout the county.
In 1995, Bryan Crough, then director of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority, worked with the Chamber of Commerce to organize a brownfield redevelopment seminar at the City Opera House. There, he explained to local stakeholders what a brownfield redevelopment program could bring to downtown.
A key site that Crough identified as a potential brownfield site was the former home of Traverse City Iron Works, an iron foundry manufacturer that ceased operations in 1984. By the mid-1990s, the remains of Iron Works occupied another piece of seven acres. of real estate along the Boardman River (pictured, bottom left), and although there was talk of the property being reused, a 1992 assessment by the county showed it was contaminated with lead, arsenic, cadmium and other toxic materials.
As the concept of brownfield development took hold in the early 1990s, the idea of cleaning up and reusing the Iron Works site grew from a cost-prohibitive impossibility to a real prospect. Traverse City developer Tim Burden—now president of Midtown Development—helped by offering a vision to repurpose the site into a five-story mixed-use development called River’s Edge.
In 1997, Grand Traverse County officially created its Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. His first act was the drafting of a brownfield plan for the Iron Works site. The county ultimately won $1.5 million in state grants for the project, along with an additional $3.5 million in tax incentives. However, the complexity of cleaning and developing the site led the initial promoter of the project to go bankrupt before the work was completed. Bankruptcy meant that part of the land had to be sold to a third party. The buyer? A growing specialist insurance provider called Hagerty Insurance.
Brownfield redevelopment at the River’s Edge site ultimately increased the value of the property from $434,600 to more than $20 million, according to state data. The development today (pictured, bottom right) not only houses Hagerty, but also the Firefly restaurant, dozens of residential units and more. River’s Edge also launched a series of brownfield projects in Traverse City, which paved the way for developments such as Harbor View Centre, 101 North Park, Radio Center and The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.