Winter Happenings at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Shopping in Traverse City - Courtesy of Traverse City CVBSpend a wintry afternoon picking-up great finds, one-of-a kind keepsakes, the perfect holiday accessories and savoring mouth-water cuisine--while shopping among the collection of stores and dining establishments set against a magnificent backdrop of century-old Victorian-Italianate architecture.

Back in 1992, when people in Traverse City began to look at the idea of redeveloping the towns 117-year-old mental asylum, the idea sounded a little, well...--just a bit "crazy".

The job was to transform a campus of abandoned, decaying buildings into a thriving village of shops, restaurants, homes and offices the largest such project in the country without destroying the sites distinctive historical and architectural features.

Ten years later, the Village at Grand Traverse Commons is still far from finished but its already one of the city's star attractions. Set in a 500-acre expanse of forest and meadow on the city's western edge, the tall castle-like buildings of the former asylum are now a bustling residential and commercial center that's wildly popular with local residents and visitors alike.

The Commons is especially attractive as a winter shopping and dining destination, since visitors can wander through most of its boutiques, galleries and restaurants without ever going outside.

In 1885, when the state of Michigan was looking for a place to locate a new asylum, they chose Traverse City because they believed that fresh air and beautiful surroundings could ease the sufferings of the mentally ill. The hospital became a huge park, filled with Victorian-Italianate buildings of golden brick and planted with exotic trees collected from around the world. It was also a small, self-sufficient city in its own right, with a population that reached as high as 3,500 larger than that of the city itself.

The centerpiece of the Commons is Building 50, a massive structure of golden Victorian brick topped with ornate scarlet-tipped turrets. Three stories tall and a quarter of a mile from end to end, it is undergoing a gradual makeover that is nearly 60 percent complete. Its garrets and lofts are condominiums and apartments; its lower floors hold offices and businesses, while its former cellar is now The Mercato, a subterranean shopping mall of trendy galleries, boutiques and restaurants, including the trendy Trattoria Stella.

Other buildings in the huge redevelopment area have also been reborn to other uses. The asylums former fire station is now an organic brick oven bakery; another old brick building is the home of the Underground Cheesecake Co., while the former laundry houses a winery and tasting room known as Left Foot Charley.

For more details, visit the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.