News Story

Michigan budget delivers $2 million curling center in Traverse City

Traverse City breaks out the brooms for pork project in shuttered Kmart

Traverse City residents are about to get a new curling center, with a $2 million price tag. The icy treat comes in a section of the 2023 state budget labeled “Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Boilerplate Earmarks.”

The money is slated to renovate an old retail building the Traverse City Curling Club will use for its activities. The $2 million grant can be found in the Senate Fiscal Agency’s analysis of House Bill 5783, which itemizes appropriations grants. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the 2023 budget on July 20.

The grant is one of several items, commonly known as pork projects, that bring taxpayer dollars to the district for elected officials to spend on favored enterprises.

Traverse City will also receive $6 million for a housing project, $7 million for a senior center and $350,000 for Traverse Connect, an economic development organization that awards money to select businesses in the area.

The money to turn a shuttered Kmart into an ice rink complex comes as the city’s curling organization has “exploded” in recent years, Rep. John Roth, R-Traverse City, told the The Detroit News, adding that he hopes the renovation will spur more development at the struggling Cherryland Center mall.

However, Traverse City Curling Club vice president Kevin T. Byrne told Michigan Capitol Confidential that the club’s membership has been flat. “Pre-COVID, we had 150-ish members,” he said. “We ended our season in April with 120-ish members.” 

The club does expect to see strong growth once the new facility is in place, Byrne said, pointing to a feasibility study Traverse City Curlers commissioned, projecting membership to reach 600 within a few years of the center’s scheduled completion. 

“We’re taking a functionally obsolete, contaminated, blighted site, and putting in a new facility that will help development in that area and build the tax base,” Byrne told CapCon. 

Traverse City sees ballooning revenues but bitter disagreement over spending priorities. The city received $18.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money in 2021 and saw a surge in tax revenue. The city had projections in October 2021 of $28 million in revenue for 2022, a 3.4% increase over 2020, according to Traverse Ticker.

The city also has $40 million in unfunded pension liabilities. And Grand Traverse County is embroiled in a controversy over the county director’s plan to raise the millage rate for veterans affairs, taking it from the current rate of 0.08 mills to 0.1125 mills. Residents are pushing back against that plan, with one telling the Traverse City Record-Eagle, “A millage here and another millage there all add up.”

Neither Roth nor Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R–Traverse City, responded to requests for comment from Michigan Capitol Confidential.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.