Latest Orchard Park Plan To Be Reviewed

January 24, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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WALKER — The latest version of the site plan for the proposed Orchard Park development will be reviewed by the Walker Planning Commission at a public hearing on Feb. 6, and the city planner said there will likely be questions, since many in Walker do not want the retail development to be a "reproduction of Alpine Avenue."

Frank Wash of the Walker Planning Department said last week the developers — Walker Orchard Land Partners LLC and Northgate-Bristol LLC — have not provided architectural plans yet for the retail structures that will be built in the first part of the two-phase project.

"A lot is going to come down to the design details, which we don't have yet. … We keep coming back to the master plan" for development in Walker, said Wash. He added he believes the Planning Commission will want to know what the buildings and the arrangement of the buildings will look like from street level.

The problems most often cited in regard to Alpine Avenue are the numerous "big box" stores that have led to congested traffic in the area and largely have discouraged pedestrian access.

Wash said Walker residents and city officials have maintained over the last two years that the proposed 302-acre Orchard Park retail project should "be unique … a pedestrian-friendly, well-landscaped, mixed use development" featuring landscaping, sidewalks and residential units along with retail stores and office space. The land is made up of abandoned orchards and vacant farmland on the north side of I-96 between Bristol Avenue and Walker Avenue.

The first phase of construction is designated on the site plan as the "entertainment/tourist-oriented district," which is located closest to the expressway. The major change in that area is that the proposed 131,000-square-feet Cabela's store is no longer in the center of it, surrounded by other stores. Now the Cabela's would be closer to — and more visible from — I-96, and would face most of the eight other proposed buildings, each designated on the site plan as an "anchor." The "anchors" range in size from 130,000 square feet down to 20,400.

The "entertainment/tourist" aspect of the development is reflected in previous comments by the developer regarding a possible hotel and water park on separate property, on the east side of Bristol Avenue opposite the proposed Cabela's store.

Grandville attorney Zachary J. Bossenbroek, who represents the developers, said they are "committed" to architectural standards originally contained in their proposal.

"I think we probably are going to have some good photos" to present at the Feb. 6 public hearing, said Bossenbroek. "I don't know if we will have a 3-D model at that time."

A Cabela's store is key to the entire project: The developer has said repeatedly the store will lure many other retail and service businesses (restaurants, hotels) to the immediate vicinity and increase local employment, because a Cabela's store attracts "retail tourists" from beyond West Michigan. However, there is no absolute confirmation yet that a Cabela's will be located at the proposed Orchard Park retail center.

When asked if Cabela's has signed a contract to buy a site in the proposed development, Bossenbroek said that information was "confidential."

"I can say we're still on-plan to begin construction in the summer of this year," said Bossenbroek.

Wash said he has seen a great deal of interest and "a lot of popular support" for a Cabela's store in Walker, but he added that "we're still at the preliminary site plan level" of the development process.

"The project is still speculation, until Cabela's buys that property," added Wash.

John Castillo, a spokesman for Cabela's, said last week that the company is continuing to evaluate potential sites. He noted that several new store locations have been announced recently but that no store has been announced for Walker.

"There are many details that need to be addressed prior to building a store," said Castillo.

"Cabela's certainly will ensure that everything is addressed before we make any news announcements," said Castillo.

The latest Orchard Park site plan indicates a 131,000-square-foot Cabela's. The Cabela's in Dundee, off U.S. Highway 23 southwest of Detroit, is described on Cabela's Web site as having a 225,000-square-foot showroom: "an educational and entertainment attraction, featuring a décor of museum-quality animal displays, huge aquariums and trophy animals interacting in realistic re-creations of their natural habitats."

The travel section on the state of Michigan Web site, www.michigan.org/travel, says the "Cabela's Outfitters Superstore" in Dundee is "a destination store for all members of the family," and features "a 48-foot mountain, 65,000-gallon aquarium, museum quality displays of wild animals and much more!"

Cabela's currently has 26 stores nationwide, with six more under construction. One of the newest Cabela's opened in October in Hammond, Ind., close to Interstate 80/94. According to The Times of Munster, Ind., the Hammond store is 185,000 square feet with a staff of almost 400. The $72 million store was "spurred by an incentive package put together by the city and state," and is expected to act as a catalyst for other commercial developments, "including a water park, hotels and restaurants."

Bossenbroek said there has been a lot of interest in business opportunities at Orchard Park and the developers have "a couple of letters of intent" from prospective tenants.

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