No Bite For Big Fish

February 11, 2008
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It’s no surprise the proposed Orchard Park development, which hinges on a Cabela's sporting goods store as a catalyst at the 300-acre project, has been delayed due to the weak economy. Now a Cabela's store won't be built here until 2010 at the earliest, according to Walker City Planner Frank Wash.

But Walker officials are still enthused about a Cabela's, and a spokesperson for the developer told Business Journal reporter Pete Daly he believes the sporting goods retailer is still "firmly committed to our site."

A public hearing had been scheduled last week on revised site plans for the development proposed on the north side of I-96 between Walker and Bristol avenues. The hearing was canceled, however, at the request of the developer, Walker Orchard Land Partners LLC. The project still lacks final approval from the city because the developer has yet to provide detailed plans on what will be built.

Dennis Highby, Cabela's president and CEO, announced Jan. 29 that "fourth quarter results did not meet our expectations," and that the company would be "paring" some of its previously planned store openings. The Nebraska company already has highly publicized stores throughout the U.S.

On Feb. 1, Cabela's announced it would open stores in Maine and South Dakota in 2008, and in Montana and New Jersey in 2009. Walker Orchard Land Partners had been planning on Cabela's opening a store here in 2009.

Wash said that since a Cabela's was the key component of Phase 1 construction of the Orchard Park development, "It really puts everything back."

Zachary J. Bossenbroek, a spokesperson for Walker Orchard Land Partners, said the delay works out better for completing public infrastructure at the proposed development. He said Cabela's indicated in the past that "they want to be in West Michigan and are firmly committed to our site."

"At this point, the city doesn't consider it a dead project at all," said Wash. "We will continue to work on the (plans for) infrastructure, and the developer is still committed to moving forward on the engineering at the site. It's just that they're not going to be able to come in with a revised site plan until Cabela's is ready."

Wash added, "No construction will start until there is an approved final site plan."

"We're excited about the Cabela's, and our information is that it's still on track — just delayed," said Walker Mayor Rob VerHeulen.

VerHeulen said the developer is covering all city expenses incurred in connection with plans for Orchard Park.

"As long as it's not costing the city any money, and if they need more time to work through the development issues, our position is, let's take the time to make sure it's done right," said VerHuelen.

Walker city officials have stated in the past that Orchard Park must be a mixed-use development that includes residential units along with retail properties. The developer is proposing that it be built in two phases, with the first phase being retail properties only, and the Cabela's store is needed to attract other retailers to the site.

**Owners of hybrid vehicles may be getting more than just good fuel economy and a do-good sense of helping the environment.

Capital News Service reporter Matt Flint reports a bill by Rep. Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids, would give hybrid car buyers an income tax credit of up to $1,000. The bill could have a $16 million annual impact on the state budget, said Terry Stanton, public information official for the Department of Treasury.

And that could be a problem, Stanton said, given Michigan’s current economic state.

“That money comes from somewhere and has to be covered somehow,” he said.

Sak said the economic benefit to the state would offset the monetary impact of the tax credit.

“My focus is always on Michigan job growth, job retention and economic growth,” Sak said.

The incentive would be in addition to credits already offered on the federal level. According to the IRS, tax credits for 2008 model hybrids range from $450 to $3,000, depending on the vehicle model and the month it is purchased. 

Sak also has introduced bills for a 1-cent sales tax to go toward recycling programs, and for a tax credit for citizens who get energy from wind turbines.

Brian Corbett, manager of hybrid communication at General Motors Corp., said although still small, the hybrid vehicle market in the U.S. is growing.

“People want to drive hybrid vehicles for a lot of reasons,” Corbett said, “among them energy security and reducing the consumption of foreign-sourced oil.”

Vehicles with hybrid technology use a combination of electric energy and traditional petroleum-based energy.

GM has eight 2008 models available with hybrid technology, including the Chevrolet Tahoe and the Saturn Aura. By 2011, the company plans to have 16 models available, he said.

Stanton said one of his primary concerns with the bill is the potential that non-American manufacturers, such as Toyota and Mazda, would be the main beneficiaries. Sak said he is looking for a way to address this concern, but maintained that the state’s gains in the area of job growth would outweigh the cost.

Sak’s proposal wouldn’t provide a tax credit for owners of vehicles using E85 ethanol or other alternative forms of fuel.

James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said the incentive could encourage more people to purchase their first hybrid car.

**Money. Money. Money. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is seeking statements of interest by Michigan companies and nonprofit organizations capable of managing an independent peer review process for a potential business plan competition. A Request for Interest has been issued as an initial step in planning for a second round 21st Century Jobs Fund Commercialization Competition.

The previous commercialization competition conducted written peer reviews on 465 qualified applicants. The field was narrowed to 179 for oral interviews, and ultimately 78 organizations received $126.3 million in awards.

Organizations interested in providing independent peer review services should respond to contracts&grants@michigan.org.

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