Progress on one Traverse City lot while another back on the market

·4 min read

Sep. 16—TRAVERSE CITY — Weeks of excavation and driving sheet piling mean a vacant downtown Traverse City lot will be transformed into commercial space and apartments.

Great Lakes Capital's Jeff Smoke posed with city Downtown Development CEO Jean Derenzy, Michigan Economic Development Corporation Community Assistance Specialist Dan Leonard, city officials and others Wednesday for a ceremonial groundbreaking.

The South Bend, Indiana-based company and CRG Residential are partnering on a building near the corner of West Front and Pine streets that'll have 5,000 square feet of retail and 91 apartments, Smoke said.

They'll do so with the help of a loan of up to $2.9 million from the MEDC's Community Revitalization Program, as previously reported. Up to $750,000 of that could be forgiven because the company plans on leasing 14 apartments to people making up to 80 percent of Area Median Income — $47,600 for a one-person household, according to Michigan State Housing Development Authority figures

Assistance from MEDC was critical for the project, Smoke said. Developers also will partner with the Traverse City Housing Commission, which agreed to screen tenants for the 14 apartments.

"We look forward to working with Traverse City and we're hoping we can pursue more public-private partnerships in the future," Smoke said.

The building is set to be done by December 2022, Smoke said.

Meanwhile, it's status quo for another long-empty downtown property less than a block away at 124 W. Front Street, where Great Lakes Capital dropped a development it previously proposed.

"We just couldn't make the numbers work," Smoke said.

City planning commissioners in April 2020 approved a site plan for a four-story, 47-foot-tall building with 10,153 square feet of first-floor retail space, a leasing office and 80 apartments.

Great Lakes Capital nixed its purchase agreement for the lot in early 2020, Three West owner and broker Kevin Endres said.

The developer lost its shot at a slice of a multi-million-dollar Michigan Business Tax credit previously awarded to 309 West Front Street and amended in early 2021, as previously reported.

Smoke said Great Lakes Capital had only one option for a Community Reinvestment Program incentive, so the company opted to use it at 309 West Front Street.

Three West is listing 124 West Front Street for $3.75 million. It's also listing vacant space in the building where 4Front Credit Union has its administrative center.

Endres said two out-of-town developers have shown interest in the vacant lot, but the lack of nearby parking is giv- ing them pause, particularly after 4Front Credit Union opened its office nearby.

"Now that 4Front Credit Union is open and has essentially absorbed all the remaining surface lot parking permits, it's hard for us to even fill the second floor of that 4 Front Credit Union, let alone somebody build a new structure," he said.

While parking downtown long has been a topic of discussion, particularly as office workers head from their homes to their desks after COVID-19 restrictions lifted, Derenzy said she's unaware of it hindering development at 124 West Front Street.

The DDA has a parking plan, including building a ramp across the street from the vacant lot, Derenzy said. That aspect of the plan is on hold while the authority looks for ways to fund the multi-million-dollar ramp.

Several major projects have been completed or are underway around Traverse City since the site was cleared in mid-2007:

* Munson Healthcare opened the Cowell Family Cancer Center in 2016

* Hotel Indigo also opened that year

* REI Construction wrapped TC Lofts in 2018

* The Breakwater Apartments were completed in 2020

* Work finished on the building that now houses 4Front Credit Union's administrative center, Barrio Tacos and OMPT Specialists Physical Therapy in 2021

* Construction is nearly complete on West Shore Bank's branch and offices at Eighth and Boardman street, and Commongrounds Cooperative recently broke ground on its building next door that'll house a café, child care, coworking space, event venue and apartments.

The lot along the Boardman River that once housed Grand Traverse Auto before it was completely cleared has little on it besides a few trees and transformers. In 2019, 123 Speakeasy co-owner Christine Keefe suggested turning it into a temporary park.

Whoever buys the land from an LLC owned by Louis Ferris could take advantage of a $895,189 grant and $617,810 loan from the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. Grand Traverse County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Director Anne Jamieson-Urena said the money would pay to clean up residual contamination from a leaking underground storage tank and a dry cleaning chemicals plume.

"There's not a massive amount of contamination that's remaining, but it still has to be managed, and it's really focused around the development," she said.

The money also would cover costs of disposing of contaminated soil in a special landfill, and installing a vapor mitigation system, if necessary, Jamieson-Urena said. The loan and grant expire in September 2022.

About $30,000 of an earlier, $700,000 loan from EGLE predecessor Department of Environmental Quality was spent to further delineate existing contamination there before the loan expired in 2019, Jamieson-Urena said.

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