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Longtime Traverse City planner looks back on 35-year career

One of Russ Soyring's favorite parts of his job ― getting public feedback on planning ideas for the future of Traverse City.
Terry Clark

If you were to credit someone for the look and feel of Traverse City today, Russell Soyring might be that person.

Friday Soyring officially retires from his position as city planner after 35 years on the job.

“Anytime that you’re involved with a community like Traverse City that is fully engaged and citizens care very much about it – it will always remain a challenging job,” Soyring says.

“I think that’s really great because it makes your job very interesting.”

One of the challenges Soyring navigated is how to honor Traverse City’s rich history and traditions with a desire to change and adapt. He says a good example is the Grand Traverse Commons.

The former psychiatric hospital was eventually closed and the state considered tearing down the buildings. But the community rallied to save the sprawling campus and surrounding parklands.

“I’m so glad we had people that wanted to protect part of Traverse City’s history,” says Soyring.

“We kept the historic buildings but we put in brand new uses that we can celebrate as a great success and adds to the character and the strength of our community.”

Soyring also considers himself an environmentalist. He says he wanted to make Traverse City the most walkable community in Michigan.

“If we can design our cities and make them very attractive and inviting, then people will want to live in the cities and they won’t feel the need to go out in the country,” he says. “And we can reduce the amount of energy it takes to do our daily lives.”

As he retires from his position, Russ Soyring says if there was one last thing he could bring to Traverse City it would be a central gathering place. A place to watch a concert, hear a speaker, or perhaps even ice skate in the winter. 

“One of the things that I think we really need is a civic square where we can celebrate as a community,” he says.

“Just have a place that we can celebrate without having the need to close a street down and interrupt businesses.” 

Above all, Soyring says he’s grateful to the residents of Traverse City for all their input over the years.

“I have so many people that have given me some really great advice that I end up using,” he says.  “I get credit for some great ideas that really came from people from this community.”

Dan Wanschura is the Host and Executive Producer of Points North.