Grand Haven officials are preparing to issue a request for proposals to develop 3.4 acres of prime waterfront real estate. Grand Haven officials are preparing to issue a request for proposals to develop 3.4 acres of prime waterfront real estate. COURTESY RENDERING

Grand Haven prepares for redevelopment along prime waterfront property

BY Sunday, August 15, 2021 05:45pm

GRAND HAVEN — City officials plan to seek proposals this fall from companies to redevelop prime parcels along Grand Haven’s waterfront.

A new multi-market area that would include space for a farmer’s market and retail shops, plus a waterfront restaurant, are among the uses envisioned for the 3.4 downtown acres along the Grand River.

The city opened the rare opportunity for redevelopment along the Grand River after demolishing buildings that housed several retail shops at what’s known as Chinook Pier along North Harbor Drive and Jackson Street. The city razed the buildings in 2020 because of mold and water damage caused by high water levels.

“It gave us an opportunity to reimagine that space,” said Jennifer Howland, Grand Haven’s community development manager. “It really is a special piece of property. I think developers will be very interested in the possibilities.”

A popular riverfront stretch frequented by summertime visitors, Chinook Pier sits on the northern end of the city’s mile-long Grand River walkway to Lake Michigan that was first redeveloped in the early 1980s for public access and use.

The Grand Haven City Council in July approved a broader, long-term master plan called “Beyond the Pier” for a waterfront stretch that runs north from the Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium amphitheater at the foot of the downtown business district.

The Beyond the Pier plan offers a “general idea of what we think is a 30,000- or 40,000-foot view of what might occur down there on the waterfront,” said City Manager Pat McGinnis. 

The plan was “made up of pure engagement (and) feedback you got from the community (and) people’s opinions and what they had to say” about the future of the city’s waterfront, McGinnis told City Council members at their July 19 meeting.

Parking concerns

City Council member Mike Fritz was the only no-vote on adopting the waterfront plan, citing what he considers as a lack of adequate parking.

“There’s not enough parking to support anything you’re doing down there and it’s really going to change everything in that whole area down there. It’s not going to be good,” said Fritz, who in a separate vote did support proceeding with the RFP for the Chinook Pier parcels.

City Council member Ryan Cummins noted that studies have shown adequate parking exists within walking distance of the downtown and waterfront, while the nearby Peerless Flats housing development will add parking. 

The city can address parking at the waterfront as the plan moves forward and redevelopment occurs in the years ahead, Cummins and other council members said.

“I don’t want to kill a good vision over parking today,” Cummins said. “This is a long-term vision. It’s a good vision and it’s a good direction forward.”

‘Economic vitality’

Working with Grand Rapids-based planning firm Williams & Works Inc., the city developed the Beyond the Pier waterfront master plan that envisions “commercial development with several secured retail tenants that would accommodate more dining and shopping options along the river, provide new parking, and be activated by a multi-use market facility” in the Chinook Pier area.

The two Chinook Pier parcels that are subject to the pending RFP are adjacent to the city’s Municipal Marina, docks for local charter fishing boats, and a park that sports a historic Pere Marquette steam locomotive. 

The amenities are within easy walking distance to downtown and across the street from Peerless Flats, a 133-unit condominium and apartment project planned on a 4.7-acre former industrial site that’s been vacant for years.

“The city would like to partner with a visionary developer to build this project, working toward the common goal of economic vitality at Chinook Pier,” according to the master plan.

The plan estimates that the Chinook Pier parcel earmarked first for redevelopment for a multi-use market would attract a project costing $6.4 million under “most likely scenarios.” The other parcel just up river, where the city’s farmer’s market is now located, could attract a project proposal with an estimated cost at $4.8 million, according to city estimates.

Moving forward

The city could formally issue the RFP in November, and officials are not obligated to accept any submissions, Howland said.

In seeking RFPs for the Chinook Pier parcels, the city is essentially now asking the private sector for a vision that fits with the master plan, said Mayor Robert Monetza. If developers “come back with some neat ideas, then we can pursue those,” Monetza said.

“You’re going to put this out and you’re going to get proposals back, and they may or may not be exactly what you had in mind,” he added. “It might be something you never thought of because there’s something that are other ideas. You just don’t know until you ask.”

The properties qualify for incentives that include Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) community revitalization grants and loans for up to 25 percent of site improvements, plus brownfield tax increment financing for site preparation, public infrastructure, lead and asbestos abatement, and any needed environmental remediation.

The city is working with the MEDC on a timeline to roll out the RFP, evaluating proposals, selecting a preferred developer, and hosting public comment and review, Howland said. The MEDC, which provided $50,000 to help fund the city’s $60,000 master-planning process, intends to host a developer showcase in the near future “to drum up a lot of interest in the site for potential developers, get them interested and raise awareness of the property,” Howland said.

While the master plan envisions how projects could fit onto the parcels, “we’re not being super prescriptive,” she said. The city has height and square-footage parameters, but it is not beholden to a certain configuration for new buildings or a particular architectural style.

“We want developers to get creative about the best way to lay things out,” Howland said. “We’re trying to keep it prescriptive enough so that they know what their big parameters are, but give them enough flexibility to be creative.”

Future elements envisioned in the Beyond the Pier master plan include public space, areas for a “food truck park,” and business incubators for “mini shops.” The incubator spaces “could be little huts that could be used in all seasons, hopefully,” Howland said.

Based on public opinions voiced during the master plan process, the city hopes proposals create year-round uses on the waterfront.

“That was a big emphasis, that it wasn’t just supposed to be a summertime place,” Howland said.

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