MARQUETTE - It sits in Marquette's Lower Harbor, a relic from an earlier industrial age.
Built in 1931-32 and decommissioned in 1971, the abandoned ore dock has remained unused for decades save for being the home base for the annual Fourth of July fireworks displays.
What does the future hold for the Lower Harbor ore dock? Letting it rust? Turning a part of it into a commercial venture such as a restaurant?
Gisele Duehring has other ideas.
Duehring, associate director of facilities and the Ripley Heating Plant at Northern Michigan University, also is board president of the Ore Dock BotEco Center, a vision she has for the 969-foot-long structure that juts into Lake Superior.
The goal of BotEco is to create a unique place on the waterfront that has a sustainable balance of educational, recreational and commercial uses.
The facility would include ecological education and research facilities, year-round indoor botanical gardens, space for historical preservation as well as education and community spaces.
The ore dock's uniqueness can be used to BotEco's advantage.
"When I bring someone into town for the first time, they rubberneck it," Duehring said. "'What is that?'"
First, the ore dock's infrastructure has to be examined. The Marquette City Commission in September authorized the hiring of GEI Consultants, based in Marquette, to conduct a structural assessment of the ore dock. The proposed cost of the project, which is expected to take about a year, is $78,000.
The consultant will conduct the analysis through next summer with a complete structural report in September, said Dennis Stachewicz Jr., director of planning and community development for the city.
"The purpose of the report," Stachewicz said, "is to identify the current condition of the structure, any immediate issues, as well as expected maintenance recommended for the future of the structure."
Duehring acknowledged the BotEco Center would require piping that moves with the lake, for example, plus other issues would have to be looked at, such as whether to include solar cells and a bottomlands agreement the city has with the state.
The Marquette City Commission, she said, already has discussed the ore dock's future, with Mayor Pro Tem Fred Stonehouse pointing out the structure provides a good windbreak.
"Anybody who's going to develop that is going to have to do an additional analysis, but it's a good start," Duehring said.
Ecology is a main focus in her plans - and that's a word she acknowledges scares some people.
"If you think about studying your home, that's not scary," Duehring said.
Several possible features for BotEco, Duehring said, are a root room for trees and a wet wall where plants grow along the wall nurtured by lake water. BotEco also would serve as a place for horticultural therapy and have memorial, seasonal and presentation gardens.
Of course, the entire project will not be cheap. Duehring placed a "lowball" estimate at $40 million. She has applied for nonprofit status for the project, which has a Facebook page entitled Ore Dock BotEco. Major grants also are a possibility.
Duehring said community engagement with the environment is a big sell for companies with deep pockets. Also, BotEco might be constructed all at once or in stages - a big undertaking considering the ore dock is three football fields long.
However, Duehring still is optimistic about getting BotEco off the ground.
"There's not a part of me that doesn't think so," she said.
Upcoming community meetings for BotEco are from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4 at the Ore Dock Brewing Company and from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6 at the Peter White Public Library's Shiras Room.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.