The Aha, a 1891 vessel that was built by Ehpraim Shay, is currently being restored in a project partnership between the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society and Industrial Arts Institute. And now, that vessel will likely find a fitting home– Shay Park, which is located beside the intersection of Main, Judd and Bay Streets in downtown Harbor Springs– following Council’s support of the concept during their meeting Monday, March 1.
“Staff is fully supportive of locating the Aha at Shay Park: it fits with the growing theme of making this section of town the ‘historical’ area; it provides a meaningful attraction to bring people into town; it does not pose a significant use or aesthetic burden at the park; it can fit with potential future uses of the park,” noted city manager, Victor Sinadinoski, during the Council meeting. This was the third time Council was reviewing the concept, and Sinadinoski noted that the previous two presentations had been met with support.
“Right now, we’re coming here to determine if we want to locate the Aha vessel at Shay Park,” he explained. City Planning Commission would still need to review the placement of the Aha to be sure it meets zoning standards, he added. “In general we feel this is a great addition to the community. We want this area of the city to be a sort of historical corridor, and the Aha there would provide an attraction for out-of-towners and a meaningful attraction for year-round residents,” Sinadinoski said.
He told Council the hope is to have the Aha be a permanent addition to the park, and that members of the community would have the opportunity to share support or concerns at the Planning Commission meeting. Kristyn Balog, executive director for the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society spoke to Council about the project, thanking members for their support of pursuing this project in previous Council meetings. The vessel, which records indicate is one of Shay’s final builds, is being restored to enable it to become a historical learning display in the community, representing one of the many ways the famed Harbor Springs resident influenced the area.
Balog noted the Historical Society is partnering with the Industrial Arts Institute for this project, and that Tom Moran, of Moran Ironworks, has offered to serve as project manager overseeing the work. She also said a donation for the landscaping that will accompany the installation has been secured. “In review of the Master Plan surveys, there was a very high support of people preserving historic value and prioritizing cultural activities, I think this project really aligns with what our community wants,” she said.
The Historical Society is requesting the City provide space in Shay Park, assist with the installation, provide a concrete pad for the vessel placement, assist with site design, provide lighting infrastructure improvements as desired/approved by the city, and assist in promoting the display. Sinadinoski said any associated costs for the City are nominal.
When asked if there were concerns about the vessel being left out in the open, Tom Moran said that as with any public installation, there is some risk of disrespect. However, he noted, the very public nature of the display will likely curb the sort of abuse the Aha had been put through as an abandoned ship. “This thing was chalked full of holes, shot full of holes, vandalized and lived in, so it will be in better shape than it’s been in the last hundred years,” he noted. Balog added that as part of the restoration, the Aha will also be powder-coated to avoid degradation of the vessel.
Council unanimously approved a motion to install the Aha in Shay Park, pending Planning Commission approval. The next step is for the Planning Commission’s review.