County Harping Is Misguided

December 3, 2007
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When Wyoming city officials gather tonight to officially endorse a Walker site as a brownfield project for needed environmental cleanup and development as a major “retail destination” featuring a proposed Cabela’s store, they should not give much heed to misguided barbs aimed by Kent County officials who want to diminish the promising plan.

Recognized in most circles as an innovative partnership between municipalities to lure the proposed Orchard Park development project to locate on 302 acres on the north side of I-96 in Walker, the Kent County Board of Commissioners have indicated they don’t believe the plan meets the intended requirements of state law overseeing brownfield redevelopment efforts (see stories, page 1). This stance fails to recognize the efforts of two units of government in partnership on a major economic development spur.

County leaders maintain they don’t see “what benefit will be derived by the residents of Kent County as a ‘return on investment’ for the contribution of its $23.2 million in property tax levies to be diverted to underwriting developer costs for this project.” They need to look a bit closer at the evident regional economic spin-off.

Although Kent County officials have questioned whether agricultural land qualifies for brownfield tax increment financing, attorneys for both Wyoming and Walker have reviewed the proposal and state law and have concluded it is an “appropriate mechanism” for the development of the land. Creative use of public sector funding programs in an era of reduced economic vitality should not be dismissed as a violation of the sprit of the law — certainly not in this case. New tax money captured for this project is arguably revenue that would not even be available if this property isn’t developed in the manner proposed.

Wyoming Mayor Carol Sheets correctly points out that the Orchard Park development, including the proposed Cabela’s store, “is a real plus for West Michigan. These are difficult times in the state of Michigan, and we need to do whatever we can to increase our tourism and promote economic development.”

Orchard Park meets the economic realities of a changing economy. Not all projects holding development payoffs will be linked to blighted industrial and commercial sites in urban locations, which has been the accepted “model” — conveniently packaged within or adjacent to artificial jurisdictional boundaries. Wyoming and Grand Rapids agreed to a similar contract for the former Steelcase Inc. property that Ashley Capital purchased and is redeveloping (adding another tenant last week).

With news that the Michigan Economic Development Corp. has signed off on a key part of the financing needed for infrastructure construction for the Orchard Park site — another important recognition of the economic development potential for the project — developer James F. Bossenbroek can proceed with finalizing a detailed site plan.

County officials need to step back and take stock in community-building realities. You can’t lose what you don’t have.

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