Waterfront redevelopment is largely an aesthetic undertaking. The extent to which the funded projects can "revitalize" urban areas remains unproven. But at least some of the anticipated benefits, including job creation and spin-off development, appear to be optimistic at best, and phony at worst.

Private restoration efforts have proved far more successful.

Grants totaling $47 million have been awarded for 43 waterfront projects. As required under the CMI statute, the grants were based, in part, on recommendations from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which focused almost exclusively on redevelopment potential, not environmental impact.

The single largest grant - a total of $6.2 million - was awarded to Detroit's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) for construction of a "promenade" along the Detroit River, between Cobo Arena and the Renaissance Center. Funding was authorized for sea wall repair, benches, recessed lighting and landscaping. The required local match was provided by Riverfront Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of General Motors Corp., which set aside land valued at $7.8 million behind its Renaissance Center headquarters.

Private investors would undoubtedly have questioned the claims of the DDA, which listed the creation of 10,500 new jobs as one of the potential benefits of the Riverfront Promenade project. The number was based on 9,000 GM employees already ensconced in the Renaissance Center, and an estimated 1,500 workers expected to transfer to the Compuware Inc.'s new headquarters located several blocks north of the riverfront.

A dozen other seven-figure waterfront grants were awarded, including:

  • $3 million to the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority to clear land for a cruise ship dock and expansion of a marine terminal. The funding enhances the competitive advantages enjoyed by the DWCPA, which is the only port authority to receive direct-transfer subsidies from the city, county and state.

  • $2 million to Wayne County to restore a portion of Rouge River habitat as a tourist attraction.

  • $3,063,000 to Bay City for development of a hotel/conference center, condos and a park.

  • $1,124,500 to the city of Benton Harbor to construct infrastructure for an industrial park and a nature park.

  • $3,941,600 to the city of Lansing to convert the Ottawa Street power station for commercial and residential use.

  • $2,835,600 to the city of Kalamazoo to develop retail and office space.

  • $2,550,000 to the city of Grand Rapids to relocate a substation and undertake "environmental activities" in support of commercial, office and residential development.

  • $1,100,000 to the city of Marquette to purchase railroad property for development of a hotel/convention center (with restaurant), a yacht manufacturing business and condominiums.

  • $2,061,418 to the city of Muskegon for infrastructure improvements to support commercial development.

  • $2,759,000 for the city of Frankenmuth to improve riverfront access and construct a pedestrian bridge to promote commercial development.

  • $1,100,000 to Port Huron and St. Clair County to prepare a former industrial site for residential and commercial development and waterfront recreational use.

  • $3,728,000 to the city of Ypsilanti to acquire waterfront property for commercial/residential development.

The smallest grant - $85,000 - was awarded to the city of Mt. Pleasant to demolish a grain silo and construct a parking lot for riverfront access.

An additional $1,735,478 million has been appropriated for lighthouse improvements to boost tourism and related economic development. Michigan's lighthouses are indeed a fascinating part of state history and worthy of preservation. Unfortunately, lighthouse grants are limited to local governments, despite considerable evidence that private restoration efforts have proved far more successful. Since 1939, for example, the U.S. Coast Guard has been in charge of maintaining the nation's lighthouses, but keeping them in shape has often been a losing battle. "Many of them have been abandoned by the authorities and are falling victim to vandalism and the elements," reports Tim Harrison, editor of the monthly publication, Lighthouse Digest. [33]