Grand Haven Plans Big Makeover

September 2, 2003
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GRAND HAVEN — After years of planning and acquiring the needed property, city leaders hope to finally enlist a developer this fall to create a new northern gateway to Grand Haven.

The city recently put on the market a 23-parcel site located upriver from the downtown business district. Too, it is inviting qualified developers to submit development proposals for the land.

The project will extend the city’s long-term redevelopment of its entire Grand River waterfront.

The city will select a final developer during the fourth quarter based on “the overall quality of the proposal.” The criteria also include creating new jobs and tax base and blending well with the character of the community.

The project’s goal is to revitalize one of the community’s older neighborhoods, while creating an attractive northern entryway to the City of Grand Haven.

The city also wants to extend its popular waterfront boardwalk along the south channel of the Grand River beyond the project site. The idea is that it eventually would be possible to walk or jog anywhere on the city’s Grand River waterfront from U.S. 31 on the north side to the Lake Michigan lighthouse and breakwater on the west.

“It’s not just the money. It’s the quality of the project,” said Hank VanderWerp of Clinton Realty in Grandville, a commercial real estate broker whom the city hired to manage the project.

“This is the gateway to the community. It has to be done right,” VanderWerp said.

The project represents the single largest redevelopment or development effort in Grand Haven in many years, likely surpassing the redevelopment of the city’s commercial waterfront during the early 1980s.

Envisioned for the site is a mixture of residential, office and retail developments that will transform the north-end neighborhood that previously consisted of abandoned industrial sites, including a scrap yard and a former Ottawa County Road Commission garage.

When complete, the development — known as GrandWater — is expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million.

In seeking to lure developers, the City of Grand Haven is offering a combination of tax incentives and credits, including up to $1 million in credits on the state single business tax.

VanderWerp in August sent out more than 200 requests for proposals for GrandWater.

He said he anticipates a strong response to the request for proposals, given the project site’s location.

“It’s just a matter of time. There are people out there looking for sites like this,” he said. “Overall, it’s a great site and the city has certainly been cooperative.”

To facilitate development, the city has designated the project site a brownfield district, making developers eligible for tax incentives and tax-increment financing to help with infrastructure costs.

The city also has invested or committed $7 million toward acquiring the parcels and addressing contamination, and toward installing streets, lighting, water and sewer service, and landscaping.

The brownfield designation and the city’s commitment provide a developer the benefits of the tax incentives, minus the “arduous” regulatory process and the expense of addressing environmental issues and public infrastructure, VanderWerp said.  

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