Economic Development, Government, and Real Estate

Partnership gives green light to marketing select properties

Regional group touts key industrial locations, including Wyoming’s former GM site.

August 28, 2015
| By Pete Daly |
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Kent County commissioners got an update from The Right Place Inc. on the just-launched Greenlightwm.com to market some vacant high-profile municipal and county-owned properties in Kent and Muskegon counties for business development.

Several other properties featured on Greenlightwm.com are privately owned.

Rick Chapla, vice president of Strategic Initiatives at The Right Place, said the state of Michigan helped fund creation of the West Michigan Economic Partnership in 2011.

The organization, administered by The Right Place, represents Kent and Muskegon counties plus the cities of Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Wyoming and Kentwood and Cascade Township.

A key element is active support of the ongoing marketing campaign by all of the government entities working in cooperation, but the launch in August of Greenlightwm.com is another major tool to be used by the partnership.

All 35 of the properties marketed on Greenlightwm.com are considered “sensitive” logistically, according to Chapla, because all have at least two of four possible logistic modes of transportation: truck, railroad, air and water.

In this case, “sensitive” emphasizes their potential added value to large corporations, particularly those with global operations and major logistical demands.

“More than 90 international companies” are already active in the West Michigan Economic Partnership region, said Chapla.

One of the most highly publicized of the properties is what is now known as Site36, on 36th Street in Wyoming.

The 86-acre site was once home to the Grand Rapids Stamping Plant of General Motors, a 2 million-square-foot factory that opened in 1936 and employed thousands of workers until its sudden closing in 2009 by GM, then in bankruptcy triggered by the Great Recession.

The property, which has a rail link, is owned today by the city of Wyoming Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

Logistical modes in addition to trucking are important, with Chapla noting that currently there is a major shortage of truck drivers in the industry.

Another publicly owned property in Kent County that is listed on Greenlightwm.com are 177 acres adjacent to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport — property owned by Kent County. The undeveloped industrial-zoned land is near a railway, a major interstate, and, of course, a major international airport.

Some of the Greenlightwm.com properties are privately owned, one being the Grand Rapids Commerce Center on the south side of Grand Rapids, with some of it overlapping into Wyoming. The entire property for sale is 196 acres between 36th Street and 44th Street, the former home to a Steelcase manufacturing complex where 18 industrial or commercial buildings employed several thousand people around 2000. The Learning Center and corporate headquarters of Steelcase are still there, adjacent to the property on the market.

The Grand Rapids Commerce Center is now owned by Ashley Capital of Chicago, and is in good proximity to the airport, plus it is adjacent to a railroad.

Another privately owned site in Kentwood is called 52nd/Broadmoor, 49 acres in total. Owners are Development Realty Ltd. Partnership of Kentwood and Chris Veneklasen/Broadmoor Ventures LLC.

In Muskegon, Greenlightwm.com lists the Port of Muskegon and the Muskegon County Business Park North.

Muskegon County owns the Business Park North, located a few miles north of North Muskegon and offering more than 110 acres of shovel-ready industrial land. It is equipped with new infrastructure and on-site access to rail.

The Port of Muskegon on Muskegon Lake in downtown Muskegon is the largest natural deep-water port in West Michigan. The port handles more than 1 million tons of freight, aggregate, coal and salt every year.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers provides funding for dredging of the Muskegon Lake Channel to provide year-round access to port facilities. The properties are owned by West Michigan Dock, Market Corp. and Verplank Dock.

There are limitations to rail transport in Michigan, except for the lowest tiers of counties, because it is a peninsula where rail lines to the north ultimately dead-end, but the water surrounding Michigan has great logistical value, as water transport is the least expensive on a large scale.

“Water transportation is an overlooked asset” in Michigan, commented Chapla.

In regard to the marketing partnership, Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications at The Right Place, said, “This is not mass marketing.” Rather, he said the marketing campaign is more of a direct outreach to major corporations with their own site-selection departments, as well as site selection firms that serve industry.

Greenlightwm.com is an aid in the campaign, directing any interested parties to the right person to contact for each of the sites in the two counties.

The Greenlightwm.com website was developed by Revel, a Muskegon marketing/website development firm that also has an office in Grand Rapids.

Chapla told the commissioners last week the West Michigan Economic Partnership was established with all seven government entities agreeing to a five-year lifespan. Since it was formed in 2011, Chapla noted the partnership should set a review date to determine how effective it is.

“If it’s not working, there is no sense in keeping it intact” beyond the initial five years, he said.

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