Leelanau News and Events

Through High Water: A Q&A With Fishtown Preservation's Amanda Holmes

By Emily Tyra | March 23, 2020

With the Village Cheese Shanty set to open in May, the Leelanau Ticker talks with Amanda Holmes, Executive Director at Fishtown Preservation Society about the latest twists and turns for historic Fishtown.

Leelanau Ticker: With current water levels — and current world events — is work still on track for the most immediate preservation projects?
Holmes: Two of the buildings that were at the most at risk [the Village Cheese Shanty and the Morris Shanty] are being saved. We are grateful to have the funds in hand to handle these initial crucial projects. What the twist is with current events – things that may have felt like delays before, do not seem so bad. I have been working with Fishtown Preservation Society for 14 years and every year brings something really, really tough. That is what has always been true for Fishtown, and yet it has endured.

Leelanau Ticker: How have the water levels added to the complexity of the Village Cheese Shanty project?
Holmes: As water levels went up, the cost of everything starting soaring. Plans evolved as we navigated historic preservation best practices, water level issues, plus the current business needs of the tenant, and regulations around food establishments. If we had not been able to start that project…it was running the risk of being shut down. We are just so proud to have been able to save the core part of the shanty. It will be ready for even the craziest weather and water levels. Also, in working on this project, I never wanted to forget the fisherman who built the shanty in the late 1950s – and all the layers of its history since then.

Leelanau Ticker: A quick refresher on the work done this winter?
Holmes: Work began prepping the Village Cheese Shanty in late November, 2019, though we couldn’t take serious measures to schedule all the contractors involved — Biggs Construction, Kasson Contracting, Team Elmer’s — in moving it until after we had permits. The lift to the Leland Harbor parking lot took place January 10 and it was returned February 7. The weeks in between were a beautifully orchestrated dance of foundation demolition, driving 30-foot long sheet pile for the new retaining wall, stone base, concrete block. The equipment looked so big in tiny Fishtown. Work on the shanty has been continuous ever since it returned — infrastructure for utilities under the floor, concrete foundation, replacement of two shed additions, and all the interior work needed to get the shanty basics ready. The final stage is the tenant bringing back all of his equipment.

Leelanau Ticker: So people dreaming now about their first Village Cheese Shanty sandwich of the season…?
Holmes: The target date is ‘ASAP,’ but we are anticipating early May to open. Let’s see what the next six weeks bring us. [Business owner] Dave Kareck could come up with a way…and it’s a carry-out place. Whenever concerns are lifted, they will be ready.

Leelanau Ticker: And the Morris shanty (on the south side of the Leland River) is next?
Holmes: Yes, many have probably seen the “I need a lift!” sign on its exterior. Once the seasonal weight restrictions are lifted on the roads, crews can transport a crane in there. The plan is to lift it at the end of April, then new higher piles will go in and the dock will be replaced.

Leelanau Ticker: And do you have the funds to complete it?
Holmes: We do have enough money in the bank to do the Morris Shanty. There was an initial Jeffris Family Foundation gift of $160,000 and the $320,000 we had to match to get it. That $480,000 was designated to three shanties — Cheese Shanty, Morris and Carlson’s Fishery. The project has gotten more complex since we secured those funds, as well as project estimates and expenses being much higher. The designated funds will only cover two of the three shanties. All the rest of the money we've raised is towards any of the project needs: shanties, West River Street drainage issues, collapsing retaining wall, making Fishtown more accessible, replacing the docks, a central utility corridor and landscape. What this means is that while we likely have enough money in the bank to also do the Carlson Fishery project — we don’t have enough to do any of the other projects which time only makes more urgent. The current price tag for this work is $1.5 M.

Leelanau Ticker: So what is the big picture for Fishtown?
Holmes: Carlson’s will be next, in the fall, and we will work on each project as its urgency becomes apparent, and within the short building season. There are 12 businesses there that lease from us, some of which have been there for more than 50 years. They all love Fishtown, and actively support its preservation. At its core Fishtown is here because of the commercial fishing, an industry that is having its own tough times. Our mission at Fishtown Preservation Society is broad. We embrace the complexities of Fishtown’s history, what it means to this community and beyond, and will fight to keep it here.

For more info or to donate, go to the website.

Photo: The Morris Shanty, Amanda Holmes

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