Friday, April 30, 2010

Manistee: Beaches, boutiques and bumming around in this port city

MANISTEE — Imagine Manistee -- a place where boutiques and the beautiful beaches of Lake Michigan are within walking distance of one another. Street musicians wander the sidewalks every Saturday in the summer. A farmers market sets up shop near a marina.

A barrier-free river walk takes people on a waterfront tour of the downtown shopping district. And every building in sight — from a combination wine shop and art gallery to an inn built as a bank in 1891 — is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“There’s a ‘hidden gem’ mentality to this place,” said Travis Alden, director of the Manistee Main Street and Downtown Development Authority.

Downtown Manistee is both quaint and lively during the summer.
Once known as the “Victorian Port City,” Manistee was a booming part of Michigan’s lumber era in the late 1800s, claiming more millionaires per capita than any other place in the state.

In recent years, the city of 6,500 year-round residents is better known for its splendid fishing; unparalleled access to inland lakes, rivers and the Big Lake; and, of course, the Little River Casino Resort just five miles down the road on U.S. 31.

“We’re glad the casino’s here. It brings people to this county that might not otherwise come,” Alden said, “but there’s more to Manistee than fishing and the casino.”

There’s River Street: Manistee’s main downtown corridor that stretches from U.S. 31 to the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s enjoying a renaissance of its own, a revitalization that’s drawing not just tourists, but people who are learning to see their hometown through new eyes.

“I love being an ambassador for Manistee,” said Jennie Marie Naffie, editor and publisher of the Women’s LifeStyle Northshore magazine that has a circulation from Muskegon north to Manistee. “As a kid, I think I took it for granted.”

Now a resident of Muskegon, Naffie returns to her hometown of Manistee regularly on business.

While there, she makes a point of shopping at its cluster of women-owned and operated businesses, including The Ideal Kitchen, Surroundings Candle Factory & Fine Cigars and Moving Spirit-Lloyd Henry’s Great Wine and Great Art — all on the same block on the west end of River Street.

“There’s a local touch to downtown that you don’t see other places. There’s no ‘big box store’ feel to the downtown. It’s just really special,” Naffie said.

Draw for business

That’s what drew Shelley Doyen to River Street to open Ideal Kitchen, a full-service gourmet kitchen shop, four years ago.

“I fell in love with downtown, all the unique shops ... all the possibilities,” Doyen said.
Few shops are more unique than her next-door neighbor, Surroundings Candle Factory & Fine Cigars, with its walk-in humidor and smoking lounge where people who enjoy cigars will be still able to indulge in a fine smoke even after the May 1 no-smoking law goes into effect in Michigan.

“Well, we’ve got something you’re not going to see everywhere,” said Karen Carlson, who owns the store with her husband, Oscar Carlson.

Unique features

Just like at Moving Spirit, a one-of-a-kind business that is a wine shop and an art gallery that sells the work of local artists. But the true star is the building itself with its original zinc ceiling and other historical elements from the 1800s, said store manager Theresa Burke. Burke said the family atmosphere is another reason to visit the area.

While mom shops, the kids can enjoy themselves on the beaches of Lake Michigan — just a few minutes away on foot, less than that by bike or car. Dad can fish, dock a boat at the marina, enjoy a cool one at any number of pubs along the way, some of which have outdoor decks overlooking the Manistee River and river walk.

“We like to think of this as our own ‘Magnificent Mile,’” said Alden.
“If you go west on River Street from U.S. 31 to the beach, you have shops, restaurants, art galleries, a marina, the river walk, two historical museums, recreational parks and boat launches. There’s just so much in a compact area.”

Inn again

The Ramsdell Inn, built as a bank in 1891 and renovated into an inn in 2003, anchors one of the most spectacular corners on River Street. The inn takes full advantage of its historic splendor, including turning an ancient bank vault into a gift shop.

“It literally takes you back in time,” said manager Julie Feliczak. “It’s a little piece of history ... that doesn’t have that franchise feel to it.”

T.J.’s Pub, which offers libations and food, shares space in the same building as the inn. Visitors walk downstairs to the pub, which occupies what was once Manistee’s first drugstore.

There’s history around every corner in Manistee. The celebrated Ramsdell Theater, where actor James Earl Jones got his professional acting start, is just a couple blocks away on Maple Street.

The North Pier Lighthouse acts as sentinel on the other end of town. The Manistee County Historical Museum can’t be contained to one site. It has its main “branch” on River Street, as well as the Water Works Museum near the waterfront.

But the city’s downtown isn’t stuck in the past.

This summer, four new shops will open on River Street just in time for tourist season that swells Manistee to twice its year-round size: The Bookstore; a meat market/deli/party store named River Street Stockyard and Spirits; The Glenwood with foods from the popular restaurant by the same name in Onekama; and finally an antiques-home furnishings store on the corner of River Street and U.S. 31.

Add to that a new Mexican restaurant, La Familia, and the established Boathouse Grille that overlooks the river and river walk.

The big draw

But it’s the water — Lake Michigan and the Manistee River especially — that brings so many people to the city’s confines.

“In Manistee, there’s constant and immediate access to water,” Alden said. “On your way home from work or shopping, you can make an impromptu stop at the beach.
“I know people who always have their fishing gear in their vehicles ... that’s just how it is in Manistee.”

And if that’s not enough, a band shell on the river walk is home to free concerts every Thursday night from June through August; the Manistee National Forest Festival is celebrated the first week in July; and The Port City Street Fair runs the first weekend after Labor Day in September.

Information: Go to or
Call Manistee County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (231) 398-9355 or (877) 626-4783; Manistee Chamber of Commerce at (231) 723-2575; or Manistee Main Street and Downtown Development Authority at (231) 398-3262. Events, attractions, festivals, maps and other information are all provided on those websites.
Water, water everywhere: Manistee is one of the busiest shipping and recreational ports on Lake Michigan. Watch 700-foot-long Great Lakes freighters navigate the narrow Manistee River Channel. During summer, Great Lakes cruise ships frequently visit. Maritime history buffs will enjoy visiting the S.S. City of Milwaukee, a historic car ferry ship and museum berthed on Manistee Lake.
Side trip: Little River Casino Resort is five miles northeast of downtown on U.S. 31, near the juncture of M-22. Info:, (888) 568-2244 or (231) 723-1535.

Manistee: Beaches, boutiques and bumming around in this port city
Article found in the Grand Rapids Press

For more information on purchasing a home in Manistee contact the Andrea Crossman Group

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Great Lakes Housing Market for 2010

The Great Lakes region is leading the U.S. out of the housing downturn as lower home prices trigger an increase in buyers with government incentives. The shake-up in Housing Predictor's best 25 housing markets for 2010 leaps Detroit, Michigan one of the worst impacted markets in the nation to the #1 position. Detroit is now forecast to experience double-digit appreciation in home prices for the year.

The Best 25 markets for 2010 are taken from housing markets forecast by Housing Predictor in all 50 states and are updated as conditions demand over the course of the entire year.

Best 25 Housing Markets 2010 Update

Rank Real Estate Market Forecast
1. Detroit, MI 21.5%
2. Cleveland, OH 17.8%
3. Cincinnati, OH 12.7%
4. Columbus, OH 10.3%
5. Grand Rapids, MI 8.4%
6. Lafayette, LA 6.8%
7. Marquette, MI 6.4%
8. Des Moines, IA 5.7%
9. Baton Rouge, LA 5.5%
10. Arlington, VA 4.8%

Friday, April 16, 2010

Holland, MI — Reflections on Happiness — Let me count the ways

In the wake of the Holland area’s No. 2 national ranking in the Gallup-Healthways’ Well-Being Index, The Holland Sentinel is printing readers’ reflections on why they’re happy to live in Holland. Submissions may be e-mailed to (put “happy” in the subject line) or mailed to Sentinel Newsroom, 54 W. Eighth St., Holland, MI 49423.

What makes me happy about Holland:

1. Max bus transportation for the handicapped.
2. Sidewalks and paths for casual biking.
3. Kollen Park, Window on Waterfront, Windmill Island, Sanctuary Woods, the path to the lighthouse, Laketown Township Steps, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Mount Piscah
4. Herrick District Library Sunday concerts, computer classes, bookstore, DVDs
5. Tulip Time flowers.
6. Farmers Market
7. Max Transportation handicapped bus drivers.
8. Hope College women’s basketball
9. Street performers on summer Thursdays downtown
10. Dutch Village
11. $1.25 kiddie cone at Holland State Park
12. Local theater
13. Variety of events at Hope College available to public
14. Lake Michigan beaches
15. Evergreen Commons fitness staff.
16. Local Happenings on Channel 24
17. Evergreen Commons coffee shop
18. Fireworks at Kollen Park.

— Norma Noordijk, Holland

For more information on purchasing a home in Holland, Michigan visit the Andrea Crossman Group.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Property Tax Issue In Saugatuck, Michigan

Readers of the Holland Sentinel have voiced their opinion on the change in property tax in Saugatuck that has an unfair effect on Aubrey McClendon. Andrea Crossman and Evonne Gritter have wrote in as reader contributor expressing their thoughts on the issue.

MY TAKE — Aubrey McClendon is standing up for his rights

Holland, MI — For months I have remained silent in response to articles in the newspapers regarding Aubrey McClendon and his fight with Saugatuck Township over rezoning his land and over-the-top property taxes. I have never met the man, but I would much rather recall the entire Saugatuck Township board than to vote to raise property taxes and give the township even more power to fight you and me and Mr. McClendon in our right to appeal our property taxes when we feel they are out of line.

The millage on the May 4 ballot would allow the township to fight every one of its property owners when they appeal their taxes, although the newspapers and the township board seem to be unfairly singling out Mr. McClendon, whom I believe is already the township’s largest taxpayer by far. As a Realtor I have seen every municipality that I deal with fight tooth and nail for all the tax dollars they can by raising property assessments and ignoring the fact that average real estate values have gone done nearly 30 percent since 2006 in West Michigan.

Some of the salient points relating to the McClendon (former Denison) property that I have tracked from reading the news articles: The Saugatuck Township board, at the 11th hour before the sale to McClendon closed, unfairly changed the zoning to severely limit what he could do with it, “downzoning” the land from one home per 1.5 acre to only one home per five acres. The township should have worked with McClendon and not against him to come up with a great plan that involved green space but still allowed higher density development and a marina on the less environmentally sensitive areas. The township also took away any rights to build within the first 100 or 150 feet from the river’s edge and to have a marina or any multi-family development. All of those uses were permitted prior to his purchase.

After the McClendon purchase, the township assessor took the taxes in 2006 (at the height of the market) while in the Denison family name from about $100,000 (on the parcels on both the north and south sides of the channel) to nearly $1 million. Mr. McClendon is now being asked to pay nearly 10 times as much in taxes on the same parcels as three years ago despite a huge decline in the value of real estate in West Michigan and stricter limits on what can be developed on the land.

This is not fair to Mr. McClendon. Taxes far exceeding $1 million could be raised if the township would only work with its property owners. And just think of how full the coffers of the township would be if it collected property taxes on the kind of business and waterfront homes that were proposed for the northside parcel.

Mr. McClendon compromised in selling the southern, more ecologically sensitive parcel to the a city/conservancy group. Now let’s see the township use some common sense and compromise with Mr. McClendon. Who knows, maybe those new taxes generated could even help keep the Kalamazoo River dredged and cleaned up?

Saugatuck Township is asking residents to pay for a fight that I not only disagree with but takes millions of sustainable tax dollars annually out of the public’s hands — money that is desperately needed for schools. Why not ask the unemployed builder who has a chance at millions of dollars worth of contracts?

Private property rights are one of the last vestiges of private enterprise that we should all enjoy. Please vote “’no” to raising a special millage to give Saugatuck Township even more power to hire attorneys to fight property owners who have a right to complain about their property tax bills and fight back against unfair zoning changes.

— Andrea Crossman is a real estate broker in Holland.

LETTER — Saugatuck Township has given Aubrey McClendon no choice

Saugatuck Township, MI — Thank you for the well-written commentary by Andrea Crossman on the opinion page Monday. I am a resident of Saugatuck Township and am very disturbed by the actions of the township against Aubrey McClendon. They have taken away both the former value of the property and then have not been reasonable on reducing the taxes on the reduced value. Their handling of this matter has left Mr. McClendon with little option but to go through the courts to protect his rights as a property owner and now they want the taxpayers to foot the bill.

This could be a great development for the township with a much needed economic stimulus for the retail stores, golf courses, harbor and schools in the area. The township should have been willing to wait for the development plan and then worked with Mr. McClendon to make it the best possible for all parties.

The township has done all the taking and none of the giving and I am disturbed at the use of taxpayer money in this way. If they want to put up roadblocks to development, then they should not come back to the taxpayers for increased taxes, as they are making the choice to cut off sources of funding.

Evonne Gritter