20 August 2014

RETIRE HERE, NOT THERE: MICHIGAN

Original Story:  MarketWatch.com

Michigan is probably not the first state that comes to mind when people think about retiring on the beach. And yet its sandy, dune-lined shorelines, with coasts along four of the five Great Lakes, have attracted many boomers to the “Riviera of the Midwest.”

Indeed residents anywhere in Michigan are never more than 6 miles from a body of water; the state has more than 36,000 miles of streams and more than 11,000 inland lakes, along with the most freshwater coastline in any state in the nation. This life aquatic gives retirees plenty to do. The state has more than 900,000 registered boats and ranked seventh in the nation in number of registered fishermen—over 1 million—in 2013. Many quaint towns have grown up along the shores, luring retirees with restaurants, locally owned shops and artist communities.

The sporty lifestyle in the Great Lakes State doesn’t end at the water line. Golfers have over 800 public courses to choose from, including three that made the 2013-14 Golf Digest list of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses: Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfurt (No. 12); the south course at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills (No. 20); and Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club in Arcadia (No. 57). The state ranks third in licensed hunters with more than 760,000. Plus, Michigan has the largest state forest system in the nation.

Michigan, and in particular Detroit, are known for cars, and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn is a shrine not just to the automobile but to American inventors, with sections on aviation and manufacturing, as well as special exhibitions. The state also has a strong reputation for arts and culture. The 658,000-square-foot Detroit Institute of the Arts ranks among the top six art museums in the nation for its multicultural collection spanning from prehistory to the 21st century; it also hosts top traveling exhibitions. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is home to the internationally renowned annual Art Prize competition and has a growing reputation in 19th and 20th century American and European art, works on paper, and crafts and design.

Many of Michigan's smaller towns pack a cultural punch as well. The Ann Arbor Art Fair, which presents crafts ranging from ceramics to paintings to jewelry, attracts more than 500,000 attendees annually; and the area around Saugatuck, nicknamed “the artist's colony of the Midwest,” has dozens of galleries and a small, but engaged, population of retiree artists.

Possibly the best thing about Michigan, particularly for those who want to stretch their nest eggs, is how inexpensive it is. The cost of living is 11.2% below the national average, the median home costs just over $117,000, and both nursing home and assisted-living costs are below average. Income is taxed at a flat rate of 4.32%--the 11th lowest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation. Boomers who want to keep working may have been reluctant to consider relocating to Michigan, which took one of the hardest job-loss hits in the nation during the auto industry’s decline. But the state unemployment rate is now 7.3%, only a point above the national average, and recent job growth is positive, according to Sperling’s Best Places.

Retirees had better not mind cold winters: In Michigan, they average 58.1 inches of snow. On the other hand, all those flakes make for prime cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, as well as some stunning ice formations on Lake Michigan when the waves freeze in place, says Bill Underdown, an agent with Shoreline Realtors based in Douglas, Mich. “It’s magical,” he adds. Retirees on Lake Michigan’s shores who like the four seasons will find that the water soaks up the summer heat making for “very long usually dreamy falls,” says Mike Norton, media relations manager for Traverse City Tourism.

State crime rates overall are only slightly higher than the national average, although violent crime in Detroit is much more frequent than in the U.S. as a whole.

Here are four budget-conscious retirement destinations which blend the state’s strengths from the outdoors to the cultural:

Traverse City

Traverse City is a hub for hiking, cross-country skiing, cycling and boating. “In the winter, almost all the cars have ski racks; in the summer, they have kayaks on them,” Norton says. This means that the area tends to attract active retirees, the kind of people who “want to be out, who don't want to just sit around and watch the world go by,” he adds.

They'll find plenty to do here: The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore features long stretches of beach and bluffs that jut up 450 feet above Lake Michigan; it’s a favorite spot for canoeing and kayaking. Hikers and bikers also enjoy the TART Trails system, a network of eight multiuse trails and a crosstown bike route. Traverse City is also one of the leading fly-fishing destinations in America, with four blue-ribbon trout streams within a half-hour drive of town.

To unwind from all this strenuous outdoor activity, retirees can visit the area's thriving wineries. The lake creates a unique microclimate that makes the area near Traverse City excellent for growing fruit like apricots, cherries and grapes. The region is known for its white wines, particularly rieslings, Chardonnays, pinot grigios and gew├╝rztraminers--but it’s also beginning to produce some decent quality reds, like Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs. It is also one of the top producers of ice wine, a dessert wine made from winter-frozen grapes. The wineries, along with the orchards and farms, have helped produce a foodie scene, Norton says, with “a lot of farm-to-table restaurants.”

Traverse City offers other perks for retirees, including a compact downtown, lined with local businesses; a lively art gallery scene; and one of the region's best hospitals. The Cherry Capital Airport has direct flights to Chicago, Detroit, Denver and Minneapolis. One downside—the town can get crowded with tourists in the summer.

By the numbers:

    Population: 14,702
    Median home cost: $165,800
    Cost of living: 1.8% lower than the national average
    Unemployment: 6.6%
Source: Sperling's Best Places

Marquette


Nestled on the shores of shimmering Lake Superior in the far northern arm of the state, Marquette is rich in outdoor activities. The Noquemanon Trail Network, which runs through town and all along the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, is a favorite for walkers, mountain bikers and cross-country skiers alike. In the winter, “fat tire biking” is a popular way to pedal through the snow. Downhill skiers hit Marquette Mountain, which boasts 169 skiable acres of mostly moderate terrain. Sailors love this town too: A local group, Fleet 35, has sailed on the Bay of Marquette every Wednesday since the early 1970s, and residents gather by the water to watch the local rowing club take their longboats out on evenings during the summer, says Pat Black, executive director of the Marquette County Convention & Visitors Bureau. The lake also offers more relaxing activities like kayaking and fishing. The area has six golf courses and plenty of land for both small- and large-game hunting.

“There are lots of cultural activities beginning to grow here,” Black says. The quaint, walkable downtown is lined with historic sandstone buildings that house eclectic restaurants, bars and shops. The Huron Mountain Club Gallery and Marquette Arts and Culture Center, both in the Peter White Public Library, host exhibits by locally, regionally and nationally known artists. Marquette is home to Northern Michigan University, where people over 62 can take classes free; the campus is also the site of the DeVos Art Museum. The Northern Center for Lifelong Learning offers low-cost classes in subjects like photography and bird-watching, along with social events. From early June to October, Marquette County hosts free events every weekend from concerts to festivals to athletic competitions, Black says.

Marquette does have a small airport with direct flights to Chicago and Detroit. Well-regarded Marquette General Hospital is operated by Duke LifePoint Healthcare, affiliated with Duke University.

By the numbers:

    Population: 21,383
    Median home cost: $159,900
    Cost of living: 2.9% lower than average
    Unemployment: 7.4%


Grand Rapids

After a career as a defense electrical engineer mostly in the Los Angeles area, Bob Lindeman and his wife Julie—both age 60—retired to their hometown of Grand Rapids in September 2013, not only to be near their elderly fathers, but because they could find a high quality of life at an affordable price. Their cost to build a 5,200-square foot home on Georgetown Shores Lake is half what it cost them to have a similar size home two blocks from the beach in greater Los Angeles, Bob says. “We were close to the ocean, but now we’re on the water,” he adds. “We’re going to have a boat.”

Grand Rapids made the top five in AARP Magazine’s list of top places to retire for under $30,000 a year in 2013, and it’s easy to see why. The city has a revitalized, vibrant downtown, ringed by historic neighborhoods with surprisingly reasonably priced homes. “In the last 10 to 15 years, Grand Rapids has had a real resurgence, particularly culturally,” says Jeannine Lemmon, associate broker and owner of Grand Rapids-based Patriot Realty. “That’s really pushed Grand Rapids into the forefront as a destination.”

Eclectic shops, art galleries, restaurants and night life have sprung up downtown and in districts such as Eastown, East Hills-Cherry Hill, Midtown and West Fulton, Lemmon says. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is internationally known for its annual ArtPrize competition, which attracts artists from around the globe. The small city has its own symphony, ballet and opera companies, and the DeVos Performance Hall hosts nationally known performers and Broadway touring shows. Retirees have plenty to do outdoors, too: The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park includes works by artists from Rodin to Calder and a five-story tropical conservatory; and the city is just a 40-minute drive away from Lake Michigan beaches. It will be even easier to get downtown from the suburbs when the Silver Line hybrid bus starts service in September.

Gerald R. Ford International Airport offers direct flights all across the U.S. In the health-care field, the Van Andel Institute is a world-class research institution in cancer and other health topics, and the Meijer Heart Center, part of the Spectrum Health system, also is globally renowned.

By the numbers:

    Population: 189,340
    Median home cost: $103,500
    Cost of living: 11.5% lower than average
    Unemployment: 6.8%

Douglas

While sister city Saugatuck, just across the Kalamazoo River, is better known, Douglas shares that city’s white sand Lake Michigan beaches and embrace of the arts—the area has gained the nickname of the Art Coast. Once a sleepy farm town known for peaches and a basket factory, Douglas is a bit more laid back and less touristy than Saugatuck, and it’s easier to find housing there, says Underdown, the local real-estate agent, who lives in a renovated farmhouse that dates back to the 1880s.

The art life and natural beauty are what drew Tom and Janice Krakowski to Douglas. They fell in love with the area when Tom started attending art workshops at Ox-Bow, a nearby art college surrounded by 115 acres of natural forest, and they moved to Douglas from Detroit in July. “We watched the transformation of the entire area,” says Tom, a 62-year-old retired master modeler and clay sculptor for the Ford Motor Company. “Douglas was nowhere just 17 years ago, but now there are great restaurants, wonderful shops, and great art galleries.” They bought a 12-year-old energy-efficient house two blocks from downtown, and are converting the second-floor garage into a pottery studio for Tom. “It’s calm, quiet and everyone knows each other,” adds Janice, a 66-year-old retired teacher. “There’s so much art and greenery; golly, it’s beautiful.”

Douglas doesn’t have chain stores, and its downtown on Center Street is modest, with a few restaurants (including the popular Saugatuck Brewing Company), a bowling alley, art galleries and locally owned shops. Big-box retailers, however, are just a 10-minute drive away in Holland or South Haven. For more cultural amenities and the closest airport, locals head to Grand Rapids, about 40 minutes away. Budget-minded retirees may wish to note that Douglas, while not the most expensive place in Michigan, does have a cost of living 14.1% higher than the national average, according to Sperling’s Best Places.

By the numbers:

    Population: 1,097
    Median home cost: $246,100
    Cost of living: 14.1% higher than average
    Unemployment: 6.1%



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