Frankfort City Superintendent Josh Mills is a ubiquitous force behind much of the action in town. His fingerprints are on initiatives that include the new Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and its efforts to enhance Main Street, Frankfort’s management of the municipal marina, the lighthouse and preparing the beach for summer. Mills is a Frankfort native who “boomeranged” back home after a stint downstate. He became superintendent in 2000, at age 27. This is part two of the Betsie Current’s summer-long interview series with impactful characters in our neighborhoods.
Betsie Current: What excites you most about this coming summer in Frankfort?
Josh Mills: Frankfort is an amazing community that seems to outdo itself every year. This positive growth of our social and economic wellbeing is a testament to our assets: the people of this community. The Frankfort community is poised to facilitate more year-round prosperity. Entrepreneurship is a key to our continued success.
The Main Street corridor will continue to be full of business and energy. The storefronts will remain the same as last year except this will be first summer in over 40 years without Walenta’s Variety—one of the anchors of our downtown, which will be missed. You will still see Dan Walenta around town as he continues to open and close the City Hall restroom on weekends and after hours.
Current: What’s new with the Downtown Development Authority? How might folks see its progress and impact in the weeks and months to come?
Mills: The Downtown Development Authority is busy working towards the creation of a Development and tax increment financing (TIF) Plan for the entire corridor, which includes property adjacent to all of Main Street and the waterfront along Betsie Bay. The Development Plan will establish needs of the corridor and, in essence, serve as a capital improvement plan that will lead to infrastructure improvements, job growth and investment within the corridor. The TIF Plan will utilize property taxes collected from properties located within the corridor to fund designated improvements. The DDA members and community will work on numerous opportunities that will enhance economic development within the city.
A goal is to establish a detailed Asset Based Community Development Inventory that enhances awareness of opportunities and assets that (promote) inter-business commerce. There will be numerous opportunities throughout the summer to be engaged with the DDA as we progress toward our successful future. The immediate future will involve a substantial amount of public dialogue. The enhanced communication will serve as the foundation of our success in the future.
Current: You wear quite a few hats in Frankfort. What’s a typical day in the life of Josh Mills?
Mills: Every day I have a goal to accomplish certain tasks, however the likelihood of our team being able to achieve daily goals depends on what issues or needs arise that require immediate attention. We have so many “irons in the fire” that there will never be any down time. There is never a dull moment in City Hall.
Current: What’s the best, or most rewarding, part of your job? What’s the toughest part?
Mills: Experiencing the compassion of the people is the greatest reward of all. The Frankfort community is very caring toward each other and the guests that experience our little piece of paradise. The city is moving forward in a positive way, allowing us to achieve success in the “new economy”. Even though we have struggled through many obstacles, it becomes more and more evident as each year passes that we are succeeding. There is a great synergy amongst city staff, City Council members and the community to make this community a great place to live, work and play.
The toughest part of the job is not having the resources or funds to accomplish all goals to enhance the community. We have to prioritize tasks, and sometimes priorities established by the city are not aligned with certain sectors of the community.
Current: Tell us about the Lighthouse at Frankfort Pier, and the Frankfort web cam.
Mills: Recently, the City of Frankfort procured the Frankfort North Breakwater Light located at the end of the north pier. The light structure was placed in this location in 1932 when the present pier was constructed. The bottom 25 feet of the light structure was built in place in 1932, whereas the top 44 feet was originally constructed in 1912 and moved from a wooden pier located adjacent to the existing harbor channel. This property was ascertained from the federal government in 2012 when it was deemed as excess property through a similar program as the former Coast Guard building that is operated as the Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center of the Arts.
The federal government can no longer provide the resources to maintain the historic structure so the city has taken on the task to avoid any further deterioration and preserve this iconic structure. The city is in the process of raising the necessary funds to preserve and maintain this significant structure of our maritime heritage. Tax-deductible donations can be made to the City of Frankfort.
The Frankfort Pier is still owned and maintained by the United States Corps of Engineers, although funds associated with maintenance have been minimal the past few years. The city and the Corps collaborated to install life rings in 2001 along the pier to enhance safety. There is a 911 call box at the Caleb Sutter Memorial area at the base of the sidewalk where it meets the pier. “Work bees” may be coordinated in the future to help preserve the pier’s concrete surface.
Due to age and weather, areas of the surface currently need attention in order to enhance a more safe, walkable area. The Corps of Engineers will allow minor concrete repair to the surface of the pier in order to enhance and prolong the useful life of this structure; however all cost associated with material and labor will be the responsibility of the community.
There are currently a couple web cams that monitor the condition of the beach. One camera is installed on the elevated water tank on tank hill and can zoom in on the activity and conditions at that the harbor entrance, the beach and Betsie Bay. This camera can be accessed via the city’s website, FrankfortMich.com. An additional beach and harbor cam installed at Harbor Lights Resort can be viewed via HarborLightsResort.net. Additional web cams and wave monitoring buoys may be placed at the beach in the future.
Current: What’s new at the marina this summer? How’s beach preparation coming?
Mills: The Frankfort Municipal Marina will have deeper slips by the start of the 2014 boating season that will exceed 10 feet in depth via a $1.1 million grant from the state of Michigan. Frankfort-based Luedtke Engineering Company was awarded the contract to dredge 45,000 cubic yards from the Municipal Marina area including the broadside docking area east of the library and adjacent to the Open Space Park, as well as a 12-foot deep channel from the internal federal basin to the Frankfort Launch Ramp.
In addition to the dredging activity, the marina restroom facility will have a new steel roof installed by the end of May. Other capital improvement plans for the Municipal Marina will include updating the electrical services at each dock and replacing the pontoons under the floating docks. The WiFi service that was installed last year will be improved in its second season. Other future improvements include site landscaping, irrigation, sidewalk repair/replacement and upgrades to site lighting.
Preparation for the annual beach grading is underway. The snow fencing is anticipated to be removed by Memorial Day with complete beach grading to begin immediately after the snow fence removal.
Current: What’s the coolest thing you’ve heard a tourist say while visiting Frankfort? How about the strangest thing they’ve said?
Mills: I have heard many positive comments from visitors, which is a testament to the overall community. The majority of comments are associated with the cleanliness and how well maintained the city is. Most visitors are amazed at how pristine and plentiful our park property is. People who take the time to venture around Frankfort fall in love and typically plan a return trip.
The strangest comment I have heard, typically every year, is “What day are the Fourth of July Fireworks?” Another strange comment I heard one day at the beach was, “This ocean doesn’t have salt“. Indeed, we are unsalted.
Current: What are you more likely to try next: kite boarding or skydiving?
Mills: I am amazed at the growing sport of surfing, standup paddleboarding (SUP) and kite surfing at our beach. It is a continual draw for many and I am told by some that our surf is one of the best on the Great Lakes. Those who brave the tenacious surf year-round is a sight to see. It is my goal to try kite surfing. I may start out slow and try a SUP before I brave being launched 40 feet in the air of a wave.
Current: If (Betsie Current co-editor) Jordan Bates were to dye his beard, what color should it be?
Mills: This is a tough question because Jordan is certainly chic with his red beard and I can’t imagine him with any other different color. Maybe purple!