By Dale Hemmila
For someone who surrounds herself with ships, Laura Scaccia makes a big deal about bridges.
Scaccia owns The Mariner in downtown Marine City, a converted historical theater, known for its world- class display of shipping memorabilia and models, including an 18-foot long, detailed model of the HMS Titanic, and a recently acquired collection of more than 100 renderings of Great Lakes vessels.
The work Scaccia has done to help turn The Mariner into a showcase of shipping history, and her bridge- building between community, business and government, has earned her recognition as the Blue Water Woman Community Developer of the Year.
Scaccia and her-then fiancé, Gary Kohs, were new to Marine City when they purchased The Mariner in 2014. Scaccia immediately got involved in community events and remains involved today as president of the Marine City Chamber of Commerce and chairperson of the Marine City Community and Economic Development Board.
“I’m very involved in bridging gaps,” Scaccia said. “I’m kind of involved in bridging businesses to work together, and community to work with government, working together to get things done. It’s important that we can collaborate and come up with ideas of ways that things can get done. Sometimes you can achieve things that you thought you never could.”
That means working to put Marine City on the map as a special place to visit, and recruiting community members to participate in that effort.
Scaccia has helped organize fun events such as the Pumpkin Palooza, which included simultaneous pumpkin carving by more than 1,000 people; the Guinness World Record event of the longest popcorn string, more than 1,200 feet strung from Marine City across the St. Clair River to Canada; and the Merrytime Christmas to draw people to “an old-fashioned small town Christmas.”
But there are serious issues that Scaccia has a passion for, as well. The most significant is Marine City’s River Rec Teen Zone. After identifying a community need for a safe place for teens to gather, she and life partner Kohs decided they wanted to make that type of sanctuary for kids in Marine City.
“We met with these kids and they pulled at our heart strings,” Scaccia said. “They became part of this project to try to open a teen center and this was three and half years ago.”
They were able to lease space in the former city hall building for $1, but it needed a lot of work to be renovated into a teen center.
Unfortunately, while working toward that goal, Kohs passed away in 2017. Despite that setback, Scaccia has continued to work toward opening the rec center. Her efforts have included raising the necessary funds to renovate the space.
“This is where, again, that connection between community and government is important,” she said.
To open the doors of the center, funding came from the Community Foundation of St. Clair County; the Michigan Economic Development Corporation; a matching funds grant from community crowd-funder Patronicity; a number of other organizations; and a contribution Scaccia made in Gary Kohs’s name.
As a result, the teen rec center is scheduled to open in February.
While building relationships, building community bridges, and raising the visibility of Marine City, Scaccia has proven herself to be an adept community developer, but she is quick to note the relationship is a two-way street.
“I’ve been accepted into the community,” she said. “I’ve made wonderful friends and I feel vested, and not just because of the business, but there’s just something about this place. I have more friends here than I have ever had in my life. Making a difference in a small community, there’s an appreciation here, and for me, it’s magical.”