REALTORS® Take Action: Help Welcome Visitors to Suttons Bay

Making Smart Growth Happen

The village of Suttons Bay, located along the eastern shoreline of Michigan’s scenic Grand Traverse Bay, created a unique welcome mat for the picturesque community’s many visitors. Thanks to an NAR Placemaking Grant to the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® (TAAR), a once scruffy intersection has been transformed into a cheery welcome and rest area for users of the Leelanau Trail. The NAR Placemaking grants are designed to assist local REALTOR® Associations around the country in funding lighter, quicker, cheaper placemaking projects. In Suttons Bay, the grant helped turn an eyesore into an oasis.

Slightly more than 600 residents call Suttons Bay home, but each year thousands of tourists from everywhere visit the coastal community. It boasts a popular beach and park and a large marina. The community doesn’t have a stoplight, but what the walkable village does feature is a variety of retail shops, restaurants and charming family-run accommodations. Many people arrive in Suttons Bay via a network of trails, bikeways and pedestrian ways called the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails Inc. or TART.

TART has transformed railroad corridors and other easements into popular recreation spaces. The 60-mile network of trails attracts bikers and walkers for much of the year and is groomed for cross country skiing in the winter. Suttons Bay sits at the trailhead of one of TART’s most popular trails. The 17-mile Leelanau Trail connects Traverse City to the south with Suttons Bay via a paved, off-road trail winding through farmland and vineyards and around lakes and ponds. Visitors don’t have to bike both ways, but can take advantage of a bike and ride bus that returns them to Traverse City.

For years, when TART trail users arrived in Suttons Bay their first view of the community was an overgrown intersection at the edge of town. Suttons Bay’s village manager and Chamber of Commerce officials were looking for ways to provide visitors with some much needed wayfinding signage and restore the community’s deteriorating red British-style telephone booths. It was just the type of project for an NAR Placemaking grant.

“When I first learned about a grant that might be available, I immediately started looking for a suitable project. It needed to be small scale, but permanent and not temporary,” explains Kimberly Pontius, executive vice president of TAAR.

TAAR secured a $2,500 grant and also added $500 of its own funds to the pot. That started the ball rolling and construction was completed by the end of the summer 2015.

“It really was a stone-soup project,” says Pontius. “We had something to offer and others all added something, too. I know they say ‘it takes a village’, but in this case, that’s the truth.”

Suttons Bay Village Manager Wally Delamater agrees. He said the project shows “simple success when working together.” “Private and public funding partnerships set an example of working together. This collaborative example was used to leverage other aspects of the project.”

The total project cost was approximately $12,000. The NAR grant and TAAR funds were used to restore the iconic red phone booth and provide signage that is protected from the elements and accessible year round. The Chamber also contributed some funds. The village provided the concrete for the site and a local company donated heavy equipment time. A nearby local business donated landscaping materials. The owner of land adjacent to the rest stop granted permission for an easement that made the placement of the site possible. And volunteers added time and muscle. The result was an attractive rest area and popular photo stop.

“Previously when folks arrived in Suttons Bay, they would say ‘now what’? says Pontius. “Now they have a place to take a break. And the phone booth is a wildly popular spot for selfies.”

It’s often difficult for small communities to get the seed money needed to launch civic improvement projects. In addition to funds, strong community partnerships are essential to success.

“Small communities can usually come up with volunteers but seem to always fall short on funds,” Delamater explains. “The NAR grant was a catalyst to not only generate local support in rehabilitation of the phone booths, but provided a funding partnership between the public and private sector to establish the rest area kiosk as a welcome to Suttons Bay.”

Suttons Bay’s welcoming rest stop doesn’t appear to be the end of the line. Pontius explains that the project’s success is serving as the impetus to restore another of the red phone booths. Working together, leaders from the private and public sectors have come together in a true community partnership that has created a lasting community asset.

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A free, semi-annual magazine published by NAR, On Common Ground presents a wide range of views on smart growth issues, with the goal of encouraging dialog among REALTORS®, elected officials, and other interested citizens.

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