Redeveloping Sperry’s Moviehouse and the old Art Van building, the development of the old YMCA site in Port Huron. It’s transformative projects such as these that help shape the region for years to come, drawing visitors to our downtowns and tourists and new residents to the region.
These projects share something else in common, too. They were all voted as priority projects by the members of Blue Meets Green
Since its formation in 2010, members of the economic development group Blue Meets Green have gathered every other year to identify the five or six projects that will help improve quality of life in the Blue Water region, be they high profile developments, improvements in critical infrastructure, community and personal development programs, and more. More than 100 members vote on the local and regional projects submitted, ultimately identifying the top five priorities for the period.
“This is not just four people in a room deciding the region’s priorities. This is a cross-section of people from the public, private, and non-profit sectors — and it’s all non-political. We’re just here to make St. Clair County a better place and move it forward,” says Jeff Bohm, co-chair of Blue Meets Green and District 5 County Commissioner for St. Clair County.
“We’re small enough to be effective. No one is too big to be on their own island.”
A still from the Marine City Marina pitch at this year’s Blue Meets Green event.
This year marks Phase VI of the priority selection process. In March, Blue Meets Green members gathered virtually to listen to project pitches and cast their ballots, determining which projects deserved the most attention. While the organization itself doesn’t work on the projects, its members are among the most influential stakeholders and change makers in the region.
Identifying which projects are priorities provides the opportunity to rally everyone’s focus around some of the most exciting projects and pressing needs of the day.
“When something goes on our list, it gets the attention of funders,” Bohm says.
This year’s priorities address a wide range of issues.
- Marine City Marina: Plans are underway to build a marina for transient and overnight boats on the Belle River, a development that will help fill a 16-mile nautical gap between St. Clair and Algonac. The project is viewed as an economic boon for both Marine City and the region as a whole.
- Countywide strategic broadband action plan: The rural communities of St. Clair County currently suffer from a lack of broadband internet access, a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students without quality internet access are put at a disadvantage when pushed into virtual learning. The strategic action plan will identify gaps in the infrastructure, providing opportunity for future investment.
- Expanded training and workforce training center: Both the workforce training centers of St. Clair County Community College and RESA require expansion. The project will update and expand current facilities and programs, and identify opportunities for further growth.
- COVID-19 vaccine planning: The project calls for coordinated advocacy, communications, and messaging for COVID-19 vaccination efforts among the business community and community leadership.
- Increasing child care options: Another issue made worse by the pandemic, this project proposes a partnership with Washtenaw Community College and their early childhood program, offering a childhood development certification that creates jobs and more child care options in the region.
“There are not too many things on this list that are not already in motion. And if it’s not in the works then it will be in the near future,” Bohm says.
“This is not just another planning exercise.”
The new Marine City Marina would fill a 16-mile nautical gap along the St. Clair River.
Putting the ‘Marine’ back in Marine City
Garnering the most votes is the Marine City Marina project and it’s easy to see why. The development is an exciting opportunity to reinvigorate downtown Marine City and the Belle River, providing the infrastructure necessary to draw more tourists and visiting boaters to the city. It’s also a good example of community stakeholders putting the region first. While it may not be built in their own community, a new marina in Marine City means more opportunities for economic development in the region as a whole.
The establishment of a public marina in Marine City helps close a 16-mile nautical gap between St. Clair and Algonac. It can also help restore some of the tourist traffic lost since the Bluewater Ferry ceased service in 2018.
The Community Foundation of St. Clair County
recently awarded the project a $45,000 grant, completing the financing necessary to acquire the riverfront property on the Belle River.
“The residents, businesses and stakeholders of Marine City are very excited,” says Laura Scaccia, chair of the Marine City Community & Economic Development Board. It was Scaccia’s pitch
that earned the first place ranking from voters.
“The marina project was recently voted the #1 regional priority by the Blue Meets Green Coalition, and we’re proud that our Community Foundation factors that ranking into their grant awards.”
Scaccia’s pitch calls for 1,000 ft. of sea wall docking, which allows for 25 overnight and transient boaters. In addition to boating infrastructure, amenities could include bike, kayak, and golf cart rentals, electric and potable water hook-ups, and more. The project is estimated to cost $377,000.
It’s an exciting time for Marine City. The Community Foundation has also announced two $10,000 grants to support planning and engineering work on the city’s portion of the Bridge to Bay Trail and restoration of the historic Marine City Hall.
“These unique downtown assets are critical to our region’s growth,” says Randy Maiers, president & CEO of the Community Foundation. “When we factored in the unique chance to help add a new marina, plus work on the gaps of the Bridge to Bay trail project and the landmark anchor on the north end of town, these were three projects that we really wanted to be involved in.”
Much like Blue Meets Green itself, the marina project benefits from the art of collaboration, building a network that includes the city, county, Six Rivers Land Conservancy
, the Community Foundation, Blue Meets Green, and the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County
“The residents, businesses and stakeholders of Marine City are very excited,” says Laura Scaccia, chair of the Marine City Community & Economic Development Board.
‘Not just another planning exercise’
When Jeff Bohm says that the Blue Meets Green list of Phase VI Priorities is not just another planning exercise, he means it. The organization’s stamp of approval and networking resources open new doors for many of the forward-thinking entrepreneurs, organizations, and community stakeholders that make the list.
Just ask Kathy Vertin, whose Inn on Water Street and Michigan Stage Festival projects both received the endorsements of Blue Meets Green.
“We have been fortunate enough to have Blue Meets Green's support on our Inn on Water Street project and honestly without their assistance, I am not sure we would have brought this venture across the finish line. The Inn was built on a former auto dealership site and required tremendous environmental mitigation, which would have made the project cost prohibitive,” Vertin says.
“Blue Meets Green opened doors to resources at the state, federal, and county levels and helped us to better educate the municipality on the benefits of a Brownfield Plan.”
The Inn on Water Street opened in 2018. Plans for the Michigan Stage Festival, akin to the Stratford and Shaw theater festivals in Ontario, are currently underway.
“Blue Meets Green has embraced the Stage Festival we are proposing and has assisted in raising awareness as to the impact such a venture could have on the entire region,” Vertin says. “They joined us in assembling a group to visit Stratford, Ontario, to discuss the arts impact on that community, which proved to be very educational and positive. This helps us to better achieve our fundraising goals.”
Update: An earlier version of this story used a photo of a previously proposed site for the marina in Marine City. It has since been updated with the correct photo.