Jackpot At Exit 61 Time Will Tell

October 19, 2007
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BRADLEY — With virtually no commercial development to date, the 129th Avenue interchange of U.S. 131 has become the scene of intense real estate speculation with the impending groundbreaking of Gun Lake Casino.

The Gun Lake Tribe purchased the various parcels comprising the 147-acre Ampro manufacturing facility at 1123 129th Ave. in 2003 for an undisclosed sum. The casino site immediately triggered interest from potential developers, but whether the momentum created by the coming casino development will trigger additional growth remains to be seen.

“Even though the casino will bring 3 million or so people to that ramp, the value of the land there is really a negative $8 million,” said Brian Silvernail, chairman of Grand Rapids Real Estate and the listing agent for nearly 1,000 acres along the U.S. 131 corridor, including 300 acres at the Bradley interchange. “That off-ramp doesn’t have any utilities. A sewer line is $4 million away, and then you’re looking at another $4 million for a water tower.

“Unless the casino opens up its facilities or the township makes an investment in that area, the impact of the casino to that interchange will be minuscule.”

Silvernail should know. Utilities were a major obstacle to his West Michigan International Speedway proposal to build a race track on 180 acres on 129th Avenue near the casino site. The project, originally proposed in 2005, has since been abandoned.

“When we started the project, we quickly found that there were no municipal options,” said John Shagonaby, CEO of MBPI, the tribe’s business entity. Ampro was using a drain field and basic septic system.

The tribe approached the city of Wayland and the Gun Lake Sewer Authority, but neither body could offer any assistance. Such situations are common among tribal casinos, as most are built with standalone water and sewer facilities. The tribe intends to do so, Shagonaby said, and does not anticipate linking those facilities to neighboring developments.

In recent months, Wayland Township leaders have discussed potential investment in infrastructure needs. The only area currently served by municipal water and sewer is that within the Gun Lake Sewer Authority, a partnership between Martin, Yankee Springs, Orangeville and Wayland townships created to serve the popular tourist destination.

“We’re looking at our options,” said Wayland Township Supervisor Roger Van Volkinburg. “We’re hoping to work with some developers to get it done.”

Failing that, Silvernail predicts casino-related investment will focus more on the 135th Avenue interchange in the city of Wayland and at 100th and 84th streets in Byron Center. One of the tribe’s original private-sector investors, W. Sidney Smith, has optioned the 46-acre Dome World site near 84th Street for a massive retail development. Grand Rapids Real Estate brokered that transaction.

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