Michael Moore's Blueprint for a Better Traverse City

Michael Moore believes in Northern Michigan. His backing of the renovation of the State Theatre in Traverse City, coupled with the founding of the Traverse City Film Festival, have helped put Traverse City on the map for visitors from around the world and improved the lives of the people who live here at the same time. But he thinks Traverse City can be even better and he has some ideas on how to make that happen.

Moore recently wrote an Op-Ed in the Traverse City Record Eagle, an abbreviated version of his whole text outlining his ideas and his belief in our ability to make things happen. Here, we run the entire text of Moore’s message to the people of Traverse City.

Today [November 17, 2009] we celebrate two incredible years of the State Theatre and its rebirth. This landmark building had been shuttered for years. And then I asked for a key so we could take a look inside. And then the board of the festival and I asked you to join us in resurrecting it. And you did—massively. We asked Rotary to give the theater to the Traverse City Film Festival. They did. For a dollar.

So in addition to allowing the citizens of this area to see the best movies from around the world on a 365-day-a-year basis, and creating one of the finest community gathering places in the state of Michigan, the State has lit up downtown Traverse City and has helped make our "main street" one of the best in the nation.

Remember the bombed out building next to the State? Now it’s a fine Asian restaurant. Remember the bookstore two doors down that some feared was near closing? Today it thrives (and has great coffee). Remember the hole in the ground? Hole gone! A five-story building is now going up in the midst of the worst economy in 30 years. Remember the closed storefronts, the trinket shops that would open and close every six months? Remember the empty streets, especially after 5 pm? They’re full of people now, even on cold November days. And Hollywood has arrived, using our streets as their movie set. Incredible.

All of this because YOU stood up and responded.

So, if I may be so bold, may I suggest our next assignment? We have all seen the significant impact the State has had on our quality of life and on our local economy. But I think there’s more we can do.

When I saw hundreds — thousands! — of you come together to rebuild the entire theater in less than six weeks, I knew that I lived in a special place where citizens, when they put their minds to it, can accomplish the impossible.

In the spirit of the "State-Theatre-We-Can-Do-Anything" attitude, I’d like to propose eight new ideas for our next community project:

1. WIRE TC FOR THE 21st CENTURY. No one will bring their company here to create jobs while we have internet connections from the last century and cell signals that don’t work. There is stimulus money available to wire up rural areas in the country and we should obtain that NOW.

2. WE MUST CREATE MIDDLE CLASS JOBS IN THE AREA. This has to be the Number One priority. We will never get manufacturing jobs here again. Why? Because when a truck full of auto parts leaves TC, it can’t make a right or left turn to head across the country for nearly 300 miles!! Whether it has to head north across the UP or south all of the way to Indiana, it can’t make a friggin’ turn to head east or west—and that means thousands of extra gallons of diesel fuel at the soon-to-be price of $5 per gallon (or higher). No company will be able to build anything here that has to leave by truck. So someone—yes, one of you!—needs to take on the role of "Jobs Ambassador" and woo the new 21st century high-tech companies to the region. You simply can’t raise a family here working at the local Taco Bell. I know there’s a retired business executive or two out there right now who could offer to travel the country and market TC as the "Silicon Forest." If you’re Google, you should put your midwestern operation here. If you’re Amazon, your brand new fulfillment warehouse is sitting out on Hammond Road. These new tech/internet companies will love the quality of life here and everything TC has to offer.

3. LET’S MAKE TRAVERSE CITY A PLACE WHERE YOUNG ADULTS WANT TO LIVE. The arts, the culture, the overall level of intelligent discourse—these things attract the smart ones in their generation to look at a place like TC. The next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates needs to be able to thrive in a place that is alive and … cool! They won’t move to a place that rolls up the sidewalks at 5 pm or flies the flag upside down the day after a black man is elected president. Sorry, but those are just the plain facts. Nobody heading toward the future wants to live in or around the ignorant past.

4. TURN NMC INTO A FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE. Let’s make TC a college town! College towns these days are not in deep recession. They don’t have smokestacks that pollute. Plus, they create more smart people who may end up creating those jobs we need. Having a university extension center is not the same thing as a true four-year college. There is not a single four-year college between Big Rapids and … Canada! (Here’s a radical idea: NMC can expand by acquiring the TC Central campus and buildings. TC Central deserves a newer facility anyway. When the economy bounces back, it’s something to consider.) They already call us "The Ann Arbor of the North." Let’s make that come true!

5. OUR BUSINESS LEADERS AND ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES MUST BRING DOWN THE COST OF LIVING. Some places in this area need to lower their prices—it simply costs too much to live here. Rents are higher in TC than in East Lansing or (the real) Ann Arbor! My production company’s internet connection (the kind needed to make a movie) in NYC cost me $150/mo. In Traverse City, it costs me $850/mo.! A pound of grapes here costs $2.59. It’s only $1.49 in New York! They don’t grow grapes anywhere near New York City. New York is cheaper than TC? What gives?

6. SUPPORT A MICHIGAN GRADUATED INCOME TAX. We’re broke. So many state services have been cut. And our poor, poor schools! Until we create the jobs we need to provide the tax base we need, those who have done well in the Reagan/Clinton/Bush years must do the noble thing and step up to the plate.  A flat tax is not a fair tax. We need a progressive, graduated income tax in Michigan. Why can’t those who do well just go back to the rate they/we were paying pre-Engler? Nothing higher. Just a little bit more to pull us back from the brink of bankruptcy. If the state goes under, everyone loses.

7. THE STATE THEATRE NEEDS MORE NEIGHBORS. LET’S CREATE WHAT DOWNTOWN STILL NEEDS. A small grocery store. An affordable diner (where young people can go out on a date for ten bucks). Some green space. A public restroom. Easy access to the beach. A cool place to hang out, go dancing, listen to comedy—downtown needs a night life!

8. HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE: WE SINK OR SWIM TOGETHER. Democrats here need to acknowledge that there are a number of wonderful Republicans who care deeply about this area. Republicans need to turn off AM radio and give themselves permission to vote for a Democrat every now and then. We have more in common than not. We are all in the same boat. We can have our differences, but there is some serious work that needs to be done if this area is to weather the ongoing recession/depression. For the good of our town and northern Michigan, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work — just like we did two years ago this month before when we permanently lit up the marquee (and the rest of downtown) with the lights of the State Theatre.

My friends, you brought this movie palace back to life when they said it couldn’t happen. It was nothing short of a miracle. We could use a few more of those these days.

What do you think? Who wants to take the lead on each of these ideas? Maybe you’ve got some great ideas of your own. Many of you already are doing so much to improve the area and enhance its quality of life. We need a hoppin’ Opera House, we need the IPR news station to have wider coverage, we need a strong, fearless, independent media, we need a light rail system that runs down US 31 and M-72 — heck, we need somebody to start that giganto windmill up again! Who among us will volunteer to be the spark? I’m ready if you are.

Sometimes it only takes six weeks.

Yours,Michael Moore

Quick Links to All Kinds of Fun in the Traverse City region

Article Comments

  • PZ

    Wonderful ideas! While a 4-year college would bring in young people, I think it is the wrong time for a traditional bricks-and-mortar university. Today’s students have different needs and today’s citizens won’t support a 16th state university.

    Start with what kind of education and training will graduates need in 5 years? 10 years?

    What kind of updating/upgrading of education and training will NMC or college graduates need then?

    How can degree programs that are needed by built in TC? What mix of on-line and face-to-face classes would be needed? Be possible?

    Older students will have to upgrade themselves while working (even at Taco Bell). How will they be served? How can they be made to feel and be an important part of this educational community?

    All sorts of questions. Now would be a great time to begin to refine these, ask more, do some research, and establish plans.