Development, historic preservation comes to corner of Cass and Front St.

Development, historic preservation, energy efficiency: can they take place simultaneously? An energy firm is betting they can on the corner of Cass and Front streets in Traverse City.
Businesses on the corner of Cass and Front streets in downtown Traverse City will be more energy efficient thanks to recent work by TC-based Keen Technical Solutions.

Keen founders Tim Pulliam and Steve Morse have taken their energy expertise to this historic district to improve the energy efficiency of two existing buildings and are in the midst of constructing a two-story building that will be the future home of a spin-off of a popular eatery in the area.

The firm is currently updating the Cherry Hill and Passageways buildings for safety and energy efficiency and will build a home for a future Stella's restaurant, a spin-off of the popular restaurant Trattoria Stella. Stella's kitchen, restaurant and bar will be on the ground floor with offices and open air seating on the second floor.

Despite the work they're doing, Keen Technical Solutions isn't a developer per se. They offer energy efficiency expertise to a wide range of businesses across the country. They chose this project to "test their mettle" as a developer, but also because Pulliam and Morse believe in continued possibilities for growth in their hometown.

"We believe in the downtown," says Pulliam. "Amanda and Paul Danielson (owners of Trettoria Stella) approached us and said they wanted to add a downtown restaurant. They run an exceptional business; it made sense."

The firm chose local contractors for the project, companies they knew would do a good job, even working in our variable winter weather, which they've been doing a lot of lately with a May deadline looming. Pulliam has been happy so far with their choice in contractors.

"We picked partners we knew we could work with," says Pulliam of the decision to hire local companies for the project. "There's definitely local pride," he says, referring to the workers who Pulliam says don't mind working an occasional Saturday.

In these days of bond purchases, tax breaks, and grants, this project stands apart as it will be built with no handouts from public entities. Pulliam and his business partner won't miss the politics which normally go hand in hand with this type of assistance.

"It's great these things exist, but for us we didn't want to do this if the project couldn't stand on its own," says Pulliam.

Total new construction on this busy corner will be in the $3 million to $4 million range and will add 11,000 square feet of commercial space to an already bustling downtown. It didn't require city approval but did require an okay from the city's Historic District committee, according to Dave Weston, TC's zoning administrator, to ensure all phases of the project complied with historic preservation standards.

Developing this corner has been a little like pulling a rusty nail from hardwood lumber. An attempt was made by Thom Darga and Cherry Republic owner Bob Sutherland, but stalled in May of 2012 when Cherry Republic bailed and Darga couldn't find a suitable replacement.

The original proposal was for constructing a four-story building to replace existing structures, with underground parking--all requiring a boatload of public funding--$2 million to be exact. The project was opposed due to its proposed size and reliance on public financing.

Then along came Keen Technical Solutions. The company started in 2008 with a whopping $25,000 loan. By 2013 the company was profitable enough to invest their earnings, which they did right here in Traverse. The founders are confident the investment will pay off.

"We hope this is a model that will prove itself," says Pulliam.

Neil Moran is a freelance writer/copywriter and owner of Haylake Business Communications.
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