Land bank is closer to first indy transaction

March 30, 2012
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When Kent County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish started the county’s Land Bank Authority, he said he wanted the organization to become an “economic-development driver.” Now the authority is very close to meeting that goal in roughly its first year of operation.

The land bank’s board members heard last week that an unidentified manufacturing company from Europe is very interested in acquiring the former Sparta Foundry, which had a 265,000-square-foot plant on four acres at 252 Gardner St. in Sparta Township.

“I can tell you that the work with the European company continues to progress. They are very close to their due diligence. Let me just tell you, it is extremely promising. So much so, I can also tell you that they’ve been looking at multiple sites, and I was told that the Sparta site has moved to the top of their list, eons ahead of any other site they’re looking at,” said Dave Allen, the land bank’s executive director.

The foundry is the authority’s first venture into the economic development realm and one of three locations the company has considered buying.

“The manufacturer has been doing due diligence on the three sites it has been looking at and has actually decided that Sparta is its number one location,” said Allen. “I can’t give much more detail than that, but I would imagine that a formal decision will be made sooner rather than later.”

The county foreclosed on the property in 2009 because of unpaid taxes and offered the site for sale at two public auctions that year. County commissioners transferred the ownership of the foundry site from the county to the land bank earlier this year. The site’s last listed owner was the Goetze Corp., which had an office in Muskegon.

The Right Place Inc., the region’s economic development organization, has been assisting the land bank in marketing the foundry site. Demolition work is underway and the authority has secured funding for the site’s clean-up.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has the foundry property on its Part 201 list of contaminated sites, as remnants of manufacturing chemicals were found in the soil. So the site qualifies for remediation under the state’s brownfield redevelopment laws.

Allen said two DEQ representatives recently walked the site and didn’t find any reason the property couldn’t be remediated. Whoever buys the property would collect the tax credits that come with cleaning up the property. The land bank expects to sell the foundry site for $180,000.

“Most of the debris should be gone from the site by May, and the site should be environmentally clean by mid-November,” said Allen, who was hired in October to direct the authority.

“Michigan got it right when it designed the laws governing land banks, and what we are able to do is leverage local resources in unique ways to create our own source of funds, if you will, for community development,” he added.

The land bank established its bylaws in November 2010 and adopted its work policy the following January. The authority’s board is made up of Parrish, County Commissioner Stan Ponstein, Grand Rapids City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss, Kentwood City Commissioner Sharon Brinks and Plainfield Township Supervisor George Meek.

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