ALPENA, MI – With the first new building in many years, the Holiday Inn Express®, getting ready to go up in downtown Alpena, it will be interesting to see what the heart of Alpena will look like in the next 5 years.
Towns and cities large and small have watched as the core of their downtown centers have emptied out of those businesses that had long been established. Many disappear altogether or they move to newer more vibrant locales. The best and most prime example of that would be Detroit.
Alpena has been able to maintain a stability in its downtown business community even as the fluctuations have come and gone. That is a great testament to the business owners, those who are employed in downtown Alpena and those who oversee the City of Alpena as a whole.
For those old enough to remember, the last vestiges of a downtown hotel were wiped away on July 15th, 2008 when the Kentucky Motor Lodge on Chisholm Street was leveled.
The first hotel at that location was built by Julius Potvin and it was known as the Alpena House when it was first built in 1865. That structure burned in 1871, but Potvin quickly rebuilt it, though on a much larger scale.
As The Alpena House became more and more popular, he expanded several times, eventually changing the name of his business to The Alpena Hotel. The property went through other owners, changes, foreclosure and renovations. At its peak it was an 86-room hotel.
In 1971 the hotel was sold to Kentucky Inns, Inc., of Alpena, with Ray Jakubiak as president. The group, made up of seven stockholders, planned an extensive renovation of the interior to modernize the rooms. They also changed the name to Kentucky Motor Lodge.
By 1980 the upper floors of the old hotel were no longer used. It was only the restaurant that kept the building open. The Jakubiak family remained in control of the property until it was torn down in 2008. DeVere Construction was in charge of the demolition of the mostly wooden structure.
Prior to that it was the old Globe Hotel at the corner of 2nd and Washington Avenue.
The Globe Hotel was in the process of seeing its demise at the end of a wrecking ball. But it was not the wrecking ball that took the last gasp out of that old hotel. The Globe Hotel caught fire on the evening of October 7th, 1978.
Word spread quickly through town that the old hotel was ablaze. It seemed as though most of the residents of Alpena were gathered near it to see the intense inferno and to watch another piece of history go down in a pile of ashes.
No immediate lodging has been available in the heart of downtown for many many years. So now the Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau, The Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce, Target Alpena and a host of other organizations get to look towards the future with what could be the gold piece to the economic puzzle for downtown Alpena.
The Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau and Keweenaw Excursions recently announced that the Keweenaw Star Cruise Ship will dock with its passengers in Alpena overnight on their extended Lighthouse tour in 2015.
Though the Holiday Inn Express® will most likely not be completed when the cruise ship docks in 2015, it will give the operators of the cruise line the opportunity to see the benefits of making Alpena a usual and frequent port of call in their schedule. The two in combination can be exactly what downtown needs.
If Keweenaw Excursions, who operate the Keweenaw Star Cruise Ship, could be persuaded to make Alpena a port of call on a regular basis for more than just the extended Lighthouse tour once the Holiday Inn Express® is completed, it would be another piece in place to the economic engine for downtown Alpena.
The Holiday Inn Express® would benefit from the over night passengers from the cruise ship. Downtown Alpena would benefit from those wanting to walk, tour and dine in the immediate area of the hotel and the cruise line would benefit from a very vital core of the area for their tours.
Most of us drive or walk past them on a regular basis. The empty spaces have been there for so long that they fade from our focus. They are there with memories of the past from years ago. But now a new focus and energy needs to be brought on each of them together and individually. A true and honest vision needs to be formed and communicated to those who might be thinking of setting up a business in any one of the spaces.
Pop-up retail, also known as a pop-up store (pop-up shop in the UK and Australia) or flash retailing, is a trend of opening short-term sales spaces in Canada, the United States,the United Kingdom and Australia. This allows to see if the store can make an actual go of it. A test bed if you will.
The concept was formed in 1999. It was wondered whether consumers would line up to purchase limited edition products from niche retailers. Once the products were sold out, usually within a matter of hours, the store would be closed until the owner received more product and would then reopen the store.
Pop up restaurants, retail, art galleries, bookstores and much more have all gone through this test. Many have failed but those with success have stayed and flourished. This could create the possibility of even more jobs being available to Alpena area residents. It would also strengthen the tax base for the city with those shops that continue on to success.
Alpena would do well by taking a couple of cues from Detroit. In areas that had long been shuttered, they are seeing a rebirth. Since allowing this trend, Woodward Avenue has come alive once again.
One of the best examples of pop up retail that has been a huge success in Detroit for the past 4 years is that of the Somerset Collection of Troy. Portions of the collection are brought to downtown Detroit during the holiday season for only a couple of weeks. Sales for the Somerset Collection soar.
Detroit has been in talks with the Somerset Collection to bring them into the downtown core as a permanent fixture of retail.
It would take a very collaborative effort with entrepreneurs, The Alpena Chamber of Commerce, local legal experts and business leaders to bring those pop up’s with the best potential to continue on to success. The idea might be a great one but the execution of it could be lacking in various areas.
There are the spaces that have not had tenants for some time so those buildings have not been upgraded or renovated because there has been no real reason to do so. This could give the building owners reason enough to make the needed changes.
One building that is very disconcerting to currently look at, even though it is occupied, is that of the old DesChamps Women’s Apparel building on 2nd Avenue.
There are weeds and trees growing from its canopy. The stucco is peeling off in large chunks.
The City of Alpena needs to find a way to help the owner make this space more inviting.
It is certainly not an image that the area wants to portray to invited guests and tourists. It could be so much more as what has been done to the Center Building at 109 N Second Avenue just a block over.
Guests staying at the new hotel and those visiting from the cruise ships will want to be able to walk within a distance to find casual to fine dining restaurants, quick pickup items from well stocked and inviting convenience stores and gift shops to name just a few ideas.
A vision and real execution can be had. It just takes the right people with the right ideas working in the same direction.
A special thanks to Marlo Broad at the Alpena County George N. Fletcher Library for assisting in locating photos and dates for this article.