If you have ridden with us in the past few years, you will have experienced that our Island dock is small, congested, and typically just hard to navigate. This has not gone unnoticed by our team. Our company has never had growth like we have this year. With the increase in tourism throughout Northern Michigan, due in large part to the Pure Michigan campaign (thank you Travel Michigan!) and the closing of the third ferry line over the winter, the increase in traffic on our docks has prompted us to speed up the planning process.
For the past 2 ½ years we have been developing a plan to expand our dock on Mackinac Island. This is not an easy task. There are many steps to getting approval from the Village, the Historical District, and the DEQ when planning any changes to a dock on the Island.
Our first step of alleviating congestion this year was to move our freight operation to a different Island dock. Without freight carts and forklifts and pallets of supplies on the dock, we have freed up space for our guests to more comfortably move about the dock area.
Our next step was to completely redesign the dock to accommodate more people and to separate the luggage and porter area from the street side to make getting on and off of the dock much easier. We hired an architecture firm to draw up plans and, as with any building project, there have been many revisions.
Earlier, I mentioned that there were several agencies that needed to grant approval for the plans. One of those entities is the Mackinac Island Historic District. They are charged with maintaining the historic integrity of the Island – a very important task for a destination whose main draw is the historic value. Our first draft of the dock showed a covered passenger waiting area with glass garage doors that could be raised and lowered with a push of a button when needed, due to weather conditions. This plan was denied because garage doors = cars. Yes, we see the problem here. So, we replaced the overhead garage doors with sliding doors like you would see on a barn. This will keep this build within the historic parameters that the Island needs. Little details like this make all the difference in placing a building on Mackinac Island.
If you take a look at the picture above, it shows our new covered waiting area to the left and our covered luggage and freight area to right. There will be enough space for 350 passengers to stand out of the elements. We will have overhead heaters for the chilly days of spring and fall and the doors will be able to close to block wind when necessary. This new waiting area will not just help us, but also will keep the sidewalks clear since the line will be contained on our dock.
This expansion also adds 10 feet to the width of the dock. We will be adding a new ticket office, new lighting, a new speaker system, and new flowers by Barnwell Landscaping. All of these upgrades will bring our Island Dock up to the standards that our guests expect from us.
The building above the walkway to the street is not sky boxes, as one commenter suggested, but a new hotel venture spearheaded by Melanie Libby and Ira Green. We have traded air rights for bottomland rights to make this plan work. The new $2.5 million hotel will have 35 guest rooms.
The Next Step
The last step of the approval process is up to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). We currently lease just over a half acre of bottomlands for the dock and this expansion will increase our bottomland needs to just under an acre. If approved, we plan to start the renovations mid-October and be finished by May 1, 2018 – just in time for the main tourism season.
We are constantly looking for ways to improve our guest experience. This is just another step in that process. Over the next couple of years watch for new parking projects in both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. We’ve also just begun talks about the possibility of adding another boat. Watch Facebook and Instagram this winter for updates as we progress through this expansion project.
We look forward to seeing you on our new dock next year!