State Extension Allows For North End Flexibility

May 24, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — A one-year extension of a deadline for work to begin on one of the largest redevelopment projects ever will enable Grand Haven to take a more deliberate approach to reviewing and choosing a developer.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality this month granted the City of Grand Haven’s request for a one-year extension of a Dec. 21 deadline to begin the North End Redevelopment Project or lose state financial assistance.

The approval came just as the city received conceptual proposals from nine developers interested in taking on the project, which the city envisions will create a new northern gateway to town by turning an old, run-down area along the Grand River’s south channel into a neighborhood with retail stores, professional offices and residences. The city also wants to extend its riverfront pathway eastward from the nearby downtown area.

The deadline extension provides the city flexibility to analyze the conceptual proposals, narrow the field of developers, select one firm to work with, and then finalize development plans.

Simply reviewing the nine conceptual proposals will take three to four months to complete, Grand Haven City Manager Ryan Cotton said. Further reviews are complicated by soil and groundwater contamination on part of the 20-acre project area, which has been designated a brownfield site.

“We’re not going to be driven by an imposed timetable,” Cotton said. “We need to be deliberative.

The city has received financial assistance from the state through an $880,000 DEQ grant under the Clean Michigan Initiative, a $250,000 Michigan Economic Development Corp. low-interest loan to help acquire parcels, and a $100,000 cultural arts grant.

The conceptual proposals submitted to the city offer a broad array of ideas for the project. Most envision a mixture of professional offices, retail stores and apartments and condominiums. Some of the proposals included a hotel, senior citizen housing and recreational uses.

There also were ideas for developing an adjacent marina and an events center within the new neighborhood.

“Our development philosophy will be to create a new urban center,” Gordon Bruinsma, chief financial officer of the Granger Group in Lansing and Grand Rapids, wrote in the company’s proposal, which envisions a hotel, retail shops, limited office space, luxury apartments, senior living and town homes as potential uses for the site.

Another development group, led by David C. Bos Homes Inc. of Spring Lake, saw the project as a chance to bring new life to a neighborhood and meet a growing market demand for housing in urban settings, said Terry Sanford of Nederveld Associates, the design architect for the group. Redeveloping urban sites “is the right thing to do. We have to take care of our inner cities,” Sanford said.

“This is a unique opportunity that doesn’t come around very often — to take a significant portion of an urban center and re-create it,” Sanford said. “The real challenge is to do it in a way that works.”

The Abonmarche Group, a Benton Harbor-based firm with an office in Grand Haven, views the North End Redevelopment Project from a similar perspective.

The company, which specializes in waterfront redevelopment, suggested a mixture of commercial and retail uses on the eastern end of the 20 acres, with offices in the middle of the site and multi- and single-family residential dwellings on the western end.

Grand Haven’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority will now work to decide which of the proposals and developers may make a great fit for the city, Cotton said. The review will hinge on choosing a developer that has the ability to undertake a project of that size, experience with contaminated and waterfront sites, and whose final vision for the acreage best matches the city’s, Cotton said.    

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