MARQUETTE - To some area residents, the ore dock in Marquette's lower harbor is an architectural relic of great importance in local culture and history. To others, it's simply an eyesore.
But for Marquette resident Gisele Duehring, it's an opportunity.
Duehring wants to turn the structure into what she thinks would be a gem of the community - a nonprofit botanical and ecological center that could rival other big name centers across the country.
Gisele Duehring points out how the Ore Dock BotEco center — a non-profit botanical and ecological center — would sit on the ore dock in Marquette’s Lower Harbor. Duehring is hoping to turn the unused architectural icon into a public space that could rival other large botanical centers across the country. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
"This project will take a beloved historic monument and give it new purpose so it can once again be cherished by the community," Duehring said. "Any and all people of capable hands, open minds and full hearts are welcome to join as we go all the way with this."
Duehring's been mulling the idea over for a few years, but only recently decided to act upon it.
Duehring said she worked on the Adult Literacy Board in Amarillo, Texas, for seven years "because I want to put my time into things where I see everybody can benefit. I know no one who can't benefit from learning to read and I feel that strongly about having this green space available."
She recently held community meetings and has spoken about the idea at a city waterfront development forum and with officials from the city's planning commission and beautification and restoration committee.
Currently she's formulating a business plan so she can begin seeking grant money for a project she estimates would cost tens of millions of dollars.
In Duehring's vision for the Ore Dock BotEco Center - a shortened version of botanical and ecological center - the atrium would rest on top of the ore dock or off one side, with space for classrooms, a reception hall and a gift shop inside the dock.
"Classrooms are very important because a huge part of this center would be education," Duehring said. "It would be very important to have multigenerational uses of these facilities. Having college students teach high school students what all goes into building soil ... and certainly we would want to have space there for people's experiments."
Inside the atrium, a number of different climates would be represented, from tropical to arid gardens and everything in between.
Duehring said the center would complement local businesses, and - as a nonprofit - would be open to the entire community.
"You really want to open it up," Duehring said. "You want to find different populations and not just the people who come to the fundraising dinners but the people who couldn't come (to the center) unless there were hours that there was no fee, for instance."
As a professional engineer, Duehring is very much familiar with the cost and logistics of the massive construction effort that would have to take place. She is currently working for Northern Michigan University, overseeing the construction and implementation of its new cogeneration heating plant on Wright Street.
"My background is in power plants, the construction of them and the retrofitting of them, but I think that lends to the facilities side of this, that you're going to have mechanical rooms and electrical rooms, and how do we get our fuel and our water over there and the logistics of the deliveries," Duehring said.
For now, the idea is still just that - an idea. Duehring has a six-year plan for fundraising and permitting and is seeking people interested in serving on the board of the potential non-profit BotEco Center.
"My experience with nonprofit boards is you need an attorney, you need an accountant, you need a skeptic, you need the dreamers, you need different ages, so it's kind of an exciting time to see the different people who get it when I talk about it," she said. "It's going to be wild to really get people's ideas to supplement what's been going on in my mind."
Anyone interested can contact Duehring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.