Challenges Abound In GH Site

December 2, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — As with any commercial real estate venture, the prep work makes the deal.

In the case of a major redevelopment planned for Grand Haven's north side, the present due diligence is heightened by the unique characteristics of the project site that includes both advantages and challenges. They include a location near the downtown of an attractive lakeshore community, acreage overlooking the Grand River, an adjacent state highway, soil contamination from past uses and railroad tracks running through it.

"It does have some unique challenges, no doubt," said Henry VanderWerp, president of Clinton Realty Companies Inc. in Grandville and the hired coordinator for the City of Grand Haven's North End Redevelopment Project.

VanderWerp, hired by the city's Economic Development Corp. and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority three months ago, expects a final development plan for the site to come in at between $20 million and $30 million.

The ongoing due-diligence process includes a marketing and feasibility study and assembling data on environmental, access and infrastructure issues for when the city seeks proposals from developers next fall for the 20-acre site, located west of U.S. 31 and along the Grand River's south channel.

"The worst thing a developer wants is surprises, because surprises kill the deal," VanderWerp said. "We're going to look at how the site can be best developed. You don't want to force the site to do something it doesn't want to do."

The City of Grand Haven envisions turning the former industrial neighborhood into a new northern gateway to the community that consists of multi-family residential, professional office, commercial and specialty retail uses. The city would also extend its popular waterfront boardwalk along the Grand River.

Among the former uses within the project site, consisting of nine separate parcels the city has acquired in recent years, are a wastewater treatment plant, an Ottawa County Road Commission garage, a plating company, and a scrap metal company that's slated for demolition within 30 days.

After the market and site analyses are complete, the Grand Haven Economic Development Corp. will formulate three conceptual plans "that best meet the city's goals" of cleaning up the site and creating a self-sustaining development that generates new jobs and tax base, VanderWerp said. Requests for proposals will go out to developers around next September, in time to have an organization chosen and then begin construction by the end of 2003, as required under terms of a state grant the city received last year, he said.

VanderWerp sees a final development plan mixing the site's unique opportunities and challenges with market practicalities.

"We're not going to come here with some grandiose plan that isn't going to sell in the market. That just wastes time," VanderWerp said. "The economics have to work."

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