River's Edge (Midtown)

Site History

The TC Iron Works was founded in 1871, just south of the primary "main" street of Downtown Traverse City. More than 100 years of heavy industrial uses scarred the land and polluted the adjacent Boardman River, which winds through downtown into Grand Traverse Bay - our region's most vital asset. The TC Iron Works deposited 80,000 cubic yards of core/mold sand and slag as fill material adjacent to the Boardman River containing levels of cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, zinc, arsenic, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons exceeding State residential clean up criteria. The 7-acre site and buildings sat empty for over 17 years with significant development challenges due to the deposition of core mold sand and slag throughout the property. Redevelopment of the property was considered to be crucial in spurring the revitalization of Downtown and in removing blight.

This property would most likely still remain undeveloped if not for changes in environmental legislation at the state level and the cooperation of the city, county, and state beginning in the late 90s. After careful planning of the site's redevelopment into a high-density mixed-used and income center of activity, including a public walkway on the river, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation approved over $3.5 million of tax incentives through tax capture to support the redevelopment of the site along side considerable local public and private investment in the late 90s. Environmental response activities were subsequently carried out to make the site ready for development. Many factors including the complexity of the environmental response, that this was one of the first projects carried out in the state under Michigan's modern-day Brownfield Program.


The site sold to Hagerty Insurance, which is a local insurance company that has grown to be the global leader for collector car and boat insurance. Experiencing rapid growth Hagerty is now bigger than all of their specialty competitors combined and protect 700,000 vehicles and 10,000 boats worth $19 Billion. Prior to their acquisition of the remaining land at Rivers Edge the State of Arizona attempted to lure the company with extensive tax breaks. By working with Hagerty Insurance, the Downtown Development Authority, and the Brownfield Authority we were able to amend the Brownfield plan for Rivers Edge to utilize tax capture from Hagerty's planned investment to construct a public parking deck that meet not only Hagerty's employee parking needs but also Downtown's parking needs. The $7.9 million, 522-space, 4-level structure opened in August 2010, and was the first LEED certified parking deck in Michigan. The deck is performing well past financial projections had indicated. So much so that the Downtown Development Authority returned half of a $1,000,000 loan to the county to cover bond payments last year as it was no longer needed. The parking decks overall success cannot be overstated. It was a substantial reason why Hagerty Insurance choose to stay in the community -which is now one of our region's largest employers - and add 226 jobs. The parking deck and Hagerty's substantial private investment is expected to generate additional 160 indirect jobs in downtown. "Hagerty's decision to grow here is wonderful news for the Traverse City community," former Governor Granholm said. "It means that a local family-owned business with a national and growing international reputation will stay and grow jobs here, opening doors of opportunity for hundreds more local working families."

Overall, Hagerty has invested $7 million into the construction of 60,000 square feet of office space at Rivers Edge, which was completed this spring. This is in addition to 24 other businesses and 90 new residences within the Rivers Edge Brownfield Plan area, mostly completed by the previous developer. View a photo collage of the project (JPG).

Project Success

The project's long term perseverance and coherence to a revitalization plan completed 15 years ago to revitalize Downtown Traverse City, not just the site in question. While the project has taken 15 years to complete and gone through substantial hurdles and changes in developers, it has developed almost completely to the plan. The plan called for developing a unique sense of place that embraced new urbanist design principals. There are a variety of housing types for different income levels, buildings meet the street, there are pedestrian amenities, outdoor cafe seating, streetscaping, and perhaps most importantly the development embraces the Boardman River with a public river walk. This development set the tone for future buildings in downtown, and sparked considerable additional investment into the community. Traverse City is now a leader in placemaking, and this project was the impetus to take particular concern with creating a sense of place given its location in the heart of downtown. A "place" where people want to visit, linger, work, invest, and live. Traverse City and Grand Traverse County are a bright spot in Michigan's economy and despite statewide population loss our community continues to grow. This largely attributable the community embracing placemaking as an economic development strategy early on.