Ishpeming mine slated for comeback as tourist site

Michigan State Roundup

Published October 1, 1991  | October 1991 issue

The most complete and well-preserved mine site in the country may become an economic lightening rod for Ishpeming over the next few years.

The Cliffs Shaft Mine site, once the most productive underground hard ore mine in the Lake Superior region, has stood empty since 1967. But the Marquette County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) plans to change that by building on the site a tourist center and several light industrial businesses.

Local fund raising efforts are under way to purchase the land from Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., which has offered to donate the buildings. And, while the mine is registered by the state as an historic site, the EDC is awaiting designation by the National Register of Historic Places. National Register designation is important for a number of reasons, says William Mulligan Jr., mine site project manager, but especially for tax credits available to the businesses locating on the site.

Built in 1848, the mine site includes three shaft houses and six other stone buildings, located near the center of the city. The main shaft house, which contained lifting machinery for the mine, is 90-feet tall. "There's nothing like it anywhere," Mulligan says of the obelisk-shaped structure. While the mine itself will not be open for touring, Mulligan says there are tunnels connecting buildings on the site that will provide a mining experience for visitors.

The goal is to open a visitors' center by the summer of 1993 and to have three businesses operating in the mine buildings. The plan calls for a total of seven businesses on the site, all existing or start-up UP companies that would also sell their products at the site. "We're looking for businesses that will want that marketing jump start with direct access to the public," Mulligan says. Right now, he adds, there are more businesses interested than they have room for.

The project's estimated cost ranges from $1.5 million to $2 million over a five-year development period. But if a Michigan State University study is accurate, Ishpeming would realize robust returns after the fourth year when up to 50,000 new tourists visit the mine annually.

Kathy Cobb