Funding the boardwalk is a top priority for Harbor Springs this summer

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HARBOR SPRINGS – Harbor Springs is in the early stages of seeking funding to preserve the historic bluff drive, which overlooks downtown from East Bluff Drive.

The boardwalk has been in a deteriorating state since before 2017, when Harbor Springs City Council members had some of their first discussions about replacing the aging walkway. At that time, they were planning to allocate about $350,000 in the budget to renovate the structure, but the funds had to be diverted for a FEMA watershed project.

Now the boardwalk has been boarded up and will be closed to pedestrians this summer. City officials are awaiting the verdict on a Federal Economic Development Agency grant the Parks and Recreation Department applied for earlier this year.

Pedestrians walk down the boardwalk in Harbor Springs during a previous summer.

In a report from the department presented to the Harbor Springs City Council on Monday, Rachel Roon, director of parks and recreation for Harbor Springs, said they expect to hear more about this funding opportunity soon — potentially “of day to day,” she said.

“We hope we find out this spring and we will continue to pursue funding options as a top priority for the community,” she said.

Either way, funding the project was listed as one of the department’s top two priorities in 2022, according to the report Roon presented on Monday, just after the department’s master plan was completed.

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If the grant money fails, the next best option may be to engage in community fundraising, especially during the busy summer months.

There is at least one group currently in place to lead these efforts — the independently formed citizens’ group Harbor Springs Boardwalk Preservation.

Speaking at a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission on Tuesday, Maggie Lacy, the group’s president, said they are awaiting final 501(c)3 approval from the IRS to be recognized as a nonprofit organization, and that they completed the final stage, filing a Form 1023, in February.

“So any day now we would get final approval for this ability to do the fundraising for the walk, which we would be happy to coordinate with all of you,” she said.

The city has not yet formally accepted a partnership.

However, both parties agreed that before the fundraiser could be successful, the city needed to get at least one concept design approved so people knew what they were giving to. Planning Commission members agreed to such a plan on a list of two options on Tuesday, but it is now up to City Council members to give the final vote on that recommendation.

The plan chosen by members of the Parks and Recreation commission included a Y-split, consistent with the current design, rather than extending directly to Bluff Drive. The first option allowed for a gentler slope and easier accessibility.

City Manager Victor Sinadinoski also said there was a small chance of federal funding with help from Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office. As the legislature begins its budget-making process, an aide in Stabenow recently contacted the city for a list of potential infrastructure projects that could use funding. Sinadinoski listed the promenade as one of those options, but he noted that funding would be competitive – Harbor Springs would compete with applications from all of Stabenow’s constituent municipalities, which would then compete with similar applications from all other senators in Congress. .

The 690-foot boardwalk has been in place since the turn of the 20th century and replaced an earlier staircase that descended from the cliff.

Officials do not expect to be able to begin repairs until at least next year.

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