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Thread: Alpena, MI - A small "big" city (warning many pictures)

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Alpena, MI - A small "big" city (warning many pictures)

    I want to introduce the City of Alpena, MI to everyone. It is a small city in northeastern Lower Michigan on Lake Huron's Thunder Bay. It is 2 hours south of the Mackinac Bridge on US-23.

    The area was first settled in the 1850s as a fishing village, but later became a major lumber producer because of the direct access to the virgin White Pine forests of northern Michigan and a navigable river and harbor on a large (mostly) sheltered bay. The lumber industry produced many wealthy people who then built many large houses that have left a decent legacy.

    By the beginning of the 20th century, the forests were pretty much exhausted, so the lumber industry began to decline. Luckily, though, all of Alpena and Alpena County has a couple hundred feet of quality limestone about 10 feet below grade. This allowed for the creation and development of the local cement/concrete industry (then Portland Cement Co., now LaFarge Corp.). This is the industry that has mostly sustained the economy for the last 100 years, alongwith a particle board plant, a paper plant (that just recently closed), quality community college, major hospital (with cancer center), manufacturing companys concrete block machine producer, etc.

    It is a city that has maintained itself fairly well over the last 150 years, and doesn't really show signs of declining, though there may not be a boom in the near future.

    Btw, I grew-up in Alpena and it was a great place to be a child. You had the Lake and River, 150 years of industrial infrastructure (therefore, alot of abandoned/leftover areas to explore as a pre-teen), and walkable/bikable size.

    Enjoy

    Downtown Alpena - north and south sides of Thunder Bay River (the river divides the downtown)




































































    That was most of Downtown Alpena, which has a nice "main street" scale, but has been eroded with parking lots on primary frontages and on the backs of the main downtown blocks.

    Now that you've seen some of Downtown, let's move into the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. These are the areas with the largest number of grand houses from Alpena's lumber era, alongwith many smaller, comfortable houses. I'll even show you 2 of houses I used to live in.

    Here are two aerials of typical residential neighborhoods in Alpena:





    We'll start at my brother's house, and walk toward downtown:





























    Now that we have arrived again in Downtown, let's move to the other side of downtown and see the grand houses on Washington Ave.:












    The house on the right recently was listed for $122,000. Alpena's cheap and stagant, but stable.








    the previous two are the house my family owned when I was in high school. It was a almots completely orginial 1903 late Victorian Queen Anne. It had all the orginial (never painted) oak woodwork, chandeliers, leaded-beveled first floor windows and front parlor French Doors. It is five bedrooms, 1 & 1/2 bath with a 2 car attached garage. Plus, it had alley access, nice. I loved this house.

    Well, that's a tour of Alpena, MI.

    What do you think?
    Last edited by mendelman; 25 Nov 2009 at 1:05 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Good call. I was there last summer for a friends wedding and it was during one of their downtown nights. They close off one of the roads in downtown, put up a ferriswheel , have live entertainment, and ice cream. It was a family event, but I was still impressed. I also like the Thunder Bay Rec Center. A friend of mine from HS got married at the big Catholic Church there, and the reception was at the Rec Center. He is now a cop there and says that there is very little crime and it is a nice little town. But
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    I've got a lot of family in the Rogers City and Alpena area. Just about every year, there's some family reunion that puts me in Alpena, usually at, well, I can't remember the name of the hall, but there's a couple ballfields behind it.

    I was there last year with a friend of mine. He took me to this late night coffee shop with breakfast, after the bars closed. Do you know what I'm talking about, and do a couple of those pictures show that place? I know I was downtown, but I don't know Alpena all that well.

    I'm much better with Rogers City. In fact, I refuse to buy sausage from anywhere but Rygwalski's IGA and have been known to make a day trip to Rogers City JUST FOR SMOKED SAUSAGE!
    Maintaining enthusiasm in the face of crushing apathy.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Future Planner's avatar
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    Thanks for the great pictures...they made me kinda homesick I grew up in West Michigan. The Victorians are beautiful...they would all be about a million dollars or more out here.

    I didn't see many pedestrians in the downtown area. Cold day? Weekend? Just the way it is?

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Roger's City for sauasage? don't ya know there is a Rygwalski's IGA in Fenton? (just kiddin). I too have relatives up in the Rogers City area. Roger's city is also a port with a giant open strip mine. I can remember being impressed by that as a kid and now as a planner I'm impressed by it being a great resource but troubbled by how it scars the land.

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    Alpena looks pretty cool. I've been up to the CRTC (combat readiness training center) by the Alpena regional airport to train with my Air National Guard unit a few times. It's beautiful up there, yet had never realized how nice the old homes and the downtown was. I'll have to check it out the next time I'm up there. Thanks for the picture tour!

  7. #7
    Mich_Airport_Planner's avatar
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    Great Place!

    Excellent community. Been there a few times myself. Definitely underutilized as for tourism. Actually, the whole east coast of Michigan seems neglected by those flocking to the west (Traverse City).

  8. #8
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mich_Airport_Planner
    Excellent community. Been there a few times myself. Definitely underutilized as for tourism. Actually, the whole east coast of Michigan seems neglected by those flocking to the west (Traverse City).
    That's OK, though.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    Great pictures, Mendelman!

    In mid-1996 I almost moved to the Alpena area. I was going to buy a small business, located near Hubbard Lake. Close observations, however, showed that the owners were "cooking the books", so I backed out.

    I was disappointed. I looked at Alpena (and the whole "Sunrise" coast of Michigan) as an undiscovered jewel.

    Probably much to your dismay, high costs on the west coast side of the peninsula will eventually lead to "discovery" and growth.

    Bear On Wolf Creek Road
    Occupy Cyburbia!

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    I have never been to Michigan but after being on this board it has really made me want to go up there and see it, these pics especially. The homes are beautiful, and it seems to have a small town feel. I cannot believe the price of that home (122K) it would be a good investment to buy a few and rehab anything necessary and hold on to them for a bit. Great pics!!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    Isn't that the town where they contracted out water treatment services (or was it wastewater) and the former employees that lost their jobs came back and ran for council and won and kicked out those that unemployed them?

    Go City Employees!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    I actually got shivers just from looking at the photos. It looks so cold! (Of course, I was born and raised in Texas, so I'm a cold weather wimp.)

  13. #13
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    I actually got shivers just from looking at the photos. It looks so cold! (Of course, I was born and raised in Texas, so I'm a cold weather wimp.)
    Its not THAT cold, many of the pictures show grass which indicates that snow was melting. The water only has a wee bit of ice left in it. Most of the sidewalks are not covered in ice, nor the roads with snow. My guess is that it was probably about 45 degrees (f) when most of these pictures were taken.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  14. #14
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Well, all pictures where taken during Christmas week. The first part of the week was typical cold winter weather, but there was a slight warmup into the low 40s as indicated in many of the photos.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  15. #15
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Would the Lake Huron shoreline area's tourism prospects be better if the US 23 freeway would be/have been extended to at least Alpena? That access disconnect has got to be a factor in that. All of the other tourism areas in Da ElPee seem to have better road access than the US 23 corridor does.

    Also, how is the situation in the Alpena area WRT the surrounding townships and the potential ability of the City of Alpena to grow the area's economy and tax base within the city limits?

    Neat tour, BTW.

    Mike

  16. #16
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Well, honestly many people in the Alpena area like that it is "hard" for vacationers (aka Down-Staters - like evil DP ) to get to the area. That way cottages are not put out of the reach of locals. But fear not, many Down-Staters, usually from the eastside of the state, are able to get to the US-23 stretch between Standish and Mackinaw nonetheless.

    As for the City expanding/annexing for ED reasons, the City in the 1970s decided to allow township properties access to the muni water system, therefore, what incentive would township properties (particularly commerical) have to annex to the City?

    The answer: None.

    But the City and County do understand that ED efforts must be a joint effort and they tend to work together pretty well.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  17. #17
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    Would the Lake Huron shoreline area's tourism prospects be better if the US 23 freeway would be/have been extended to at least Alpena? That access disconnect has got to be a factor in that. All of the other tourism areas in Da ElPee seem to have better road access than the US 23 corridor does.

    Also, how is the situation in the Alpena area WRT the surrounding townships and the potential ability of the City of Alpena to grow the area's economy and tax base within the city limits?

    Neat tour, BTW.

    Mike
    I think the Lake Michigan shoreline wins out because of its proximity to rich Chicagoland residents.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

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    NEW & IMPROVED !!!!!!

    To: Mendelman and all of the other that have commented here.

    So much has happened since these pics were posted. Please go to www.AlpenaCVB.com and check out everything there is to do and see in Alpena.

    In the last few years there has been a tremendous effort to market Alpena as a tourist destination. More and more shops and activities are becoming available each year. Wineries, breweries, bike, kayak, canoe, and surrey rentals, sailing lessons, scuba diving, shipwrecks and a glass bottom boat to view them, ice cream shoppes, amazing restaurants, museums, and more!

    Mendelman, come home and update the pictures.

    Oh and as far as that highway. Somebody said it already. We don't want to be Traverse City. If you can't handle a 2 lane go there. The east side has a slower pace and that is its charm.

    Come visit Alpena-----The Sanctuary of the Great Lakes

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    I know there is a forum for this, but since there is a thread for this particular city I wanted to post that the Planning Director position for Alpena is open until June 3rd. http://www.alpena.mi.us/

  20. #20
    Years later and the town still looks the same and still smells awful! Alpena is a horrible town to live in and visit. I dream every night of being able to move away from this town. There's nothing to do here. People are redneck hicks. You can't swim at the "beach" because of all the rocks and wood chips and other black stuff floating in the water, plus there's usually an ecol i warning. There's no place to shop. It's freezing 10 out of the 12 months of the year. I still have to jeans and a sweatshirt on July 4th! Need I go on? People who like this town are the elderly rich people who rarely leave the house!

  21. #21
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by alpenasucks View post
    Years later and the town still looks the same and still smells awful! Alpena is a horrible town to live in and visit. I dream every night of being able to move away from this town. There's nothing to do here. People are redneck hicks. You can't swim at the "beach" because of all the rocks and wood chips and other black stuff floating in the water, plus there's usually an ecol i warning. There's no place to shop. It's freezing 10 out of the 12 months of the year. I still have to jeans and a sweatshirt on July 4th! Need I go on? People who like this town are the elderly rich people who rarely leave the house!
    First, I hate to say it, but you just described half of America. Why do you hate America?
    At the risk of sounding like a bad advice column, with that attitude you won't be happy anywhere. You have to look at what you enjoy about your life. The place you live is just a backdrop.
    Finally, there are many ways out of a city. May I recommend joining the military so you can see other cities you will be disappointed in. Michigan also has several great colleges (so do other states). Go to college and get an education. It will force you to move. You may also become one of those rich old people who enjoy a quiet town.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

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    Nothing to do????

    Edited.

  23. #23
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    Nothing to do???? !!!!!!!!!!!!

    Quote Originally posted by alpenasucks View post
    Years later and the town still looks the same and still smells awful! Alpena is a horrible town to live in and visit. I dream every night of being able to move away from this town. There's nothing to do here. People are redneck hicks. You can't swim at the "beach" because of all the rocks and wood chips and other black stuff floating in the water, plus there's usually an ecol i warning. There's no place to shop. It's freezing 10 out of the 12 months of the year. I still have to jeans and a sweatshirt on July 4th! Need I go on? People who like this town are the elderly rich people who rarely leave the house!
    You can swim in Grand, Long or Hubbard Lake, you can shop on line or take a road trip, I am definitely no rich. Not true about the e coli, and I leave the house all the time. When are you leaving?

    In the last month I have attended the Reel Fun fishing tournament on Grand Lake, the Film Festival at the Maritime Heritage Center, The celebration of the final show of the Major League Fishing Summit Cup, the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative presentation, another presentation on the Boundary Waters Wilderness area. I could have attended basketball games, the theater or plays, informational meetings on social security, the Alpena News business expo, a bow hunting extravaganza, a snow rally, a museum, a city council meeting, hiked Island Park, watched a snowmobile race, or jumped in the lake for the Polar Plunge, And those are just the things I could remember while sitting here at work answering your sorry butt.

    Please if anyone is interested in visiting Alpena look on line at the Alpena Convention and Visitors Bureau web site. They have a calendar of things to do. Hopefully you won't ever meet that writer while you're here. Instead you will meet those of us who love our little town, make it better by volunteering for local organizations or participating in events that improve it. We'd love to have you.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by alpenasucks View post
    Years later and the town still looks the same and still smells awful! Alpena is a horrible town to live in and visit. I dream every night of being able to move away from this town. There's nothing to do here. People are redneck hicks. You can't swim at the "beach" because of all the rocks and wood chips and other black stuff floating in the water, plus there's usually an ecol i warning. There's no place to shop. It's freezing 10 out of the 12 months of the year. I still have to jeans and a sweatshirt on July 4th! Need I go on? People who like this town are the elderly rich people who rarely leave the house!
    Wow... if that is how you feel about Alpena, don't cross the bridge into the UP. I thought Alpena was a great little town and it seems like it had quite a bit going for it.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  25. #25
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Wow... if that is how you feel about Alpena, don't cross the bridge into the UP. I thought Alpena was a great little town and it seems like it had quite a bit going for it.
    He is just made cuz Alpena was passed up for Kohls and Meijer. They went to more centrally located Gaylord. I am surprised that Art Van has not joined em yet.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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