Grandville developers were ready for Cabelas

February 20, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Developers tried for years to lure a Cabela’s store to Walker to anchor their planned project, to no avail.

Developers in Grandville have a Cabela’s sliding into place in their retail project, after only a few months of negotiation. CWD Real Estate Investments — Sam Cummings, Scott Wierda and Dan DeVos — was apparently operating on the same premise as that movie character played by Kevin Costner: If we build it, they will come.

Walker Orchard Land Partners, on the other hand, had followed a different script: If they come, we will build it.

The Walker group began buying up parcels of farmland near I-96 and told Walker city planners from day one — in 2005 — that they were counting on a Cabela’s store to anchor their ambitious project, which eventually totaled about 300 acres.

By that time, Cabela’s was already legendary across the country as a catalyst for new mall development. The sporting goods stores were huge and included stuffed grizzly bears and elk, fish ponds stocked with trout, and museum-like displays that drew tourist traffic as well as shoppers.

But Cabela’s officials would only say they were interested. They never made a commitment, and as the Great Recession kicked in, the chain scaled back its expansion plans.

In 2010, the parcels in Walker that had been acquired by Walker Orchard Land Partners reverted back to the bank.

In Grandville, X-Rite had suffered, too, and in 2006, it had to cut jobs and close its factory there, located just east of RiverTown Crossings Mall. In January 2009, CWD Capital LLC bought the property from X-Rite for $7.2 million, and CWD began planning re-development of the site.

Working with the developers, the city rezoned the site a couple of years ago for Planned Unit Development, with a variety of commercial building types that could be erected, from office space to food service to retail businesses. Eventually, CWD Real Estate Investments landed a Target store for the site, which is now under construction.

The appearance of Cabela’s “is relatively late-breaking,” according to Grandville City Manager Ken Krombeen. In fact, city hall didn’t hear the Cabela’s name mentioned until a few weeks ago, he said.

About November, according to Krombeen, CWD came to meet with the city council and presented a new, alternate plan for development of the site.

“They said, ‘We think we have a chance to go for something unique, something big, something that would be new to West Michigan.’ And the council, to their credit, took CWD at face value. The firm has credibility with the city council,” he said.

The council “essentially pre-approved” the alternative development plan if the mysterious “something big” materialized. Krombeen said he assumes the alternate plan increased the marketability of the site for CWD.

“We didn’t have to go through rezoning; at that point, it had been done two years ago. We didn’t have to widen roads; they were already done. We didn’t have to bring in utilities from a mile away. The site was ready to go, and in fact, already being graded for the Target store, and so I can’t imagine it could get much easier. All the obstacles were cleared; the snow plow had gone down the road ahead of them,” said Krombeen.

All that the Grandville City Council knew, said Krombeen, was that CWD was talking to “a major national retailer without a presence in West Michigan. But they didn’t tell us who it was.”

A few weeks after that meeting, CWD shared the good news with city officials.

The Cabela’s store coming to Grandville may also be a reflection of the new economy coming out of the Great Recession. It is what Cabela’s calls its “new generation” store design: At 88,000 square feet, it is far smaller than the original Cabela’s stores. The one in Dundee, Mich., is 225,000 square feet. The “new generation” model is pretty much the same inside, but on a smaller scale.

And Cabela’s has just revealed a new, even smaller store design called Cabela’s Outpost, which “typically run about 40,000 square feet,” according to Cabela’s spokesperson John Castillo at corporate headquarters in Nebraska. The smaller stores are designed for regions “with less than 250,000 population in them.”

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