WYOMING — A 92-acre shovel-ready industrial property sits empty about five miles south of downtown Grand Rapids, even amid a shortage of available manufacturing spaces across West Michigan.
Franklin Partners LLC, the lead marketer and development partner for Site 36 Industrial Park in Wyoming, has priced new buildings for interested manufacturing tenants eight or nine times in the three years the company has been involved with the property.
Don Shoemaker, principal of the Grand Rapids- and Oak Brook, Ill.-based Franklin Partners, a development and property management firm, said that process often leaves prospective tenants with a case of “sticker shock,” given the high costs of construction.
“You used to be able to build an industrial building for $40 a foot, and now the same building has been $80 a foot, so it’s just some sticker shock,” Shoemaker told MiBiz.
While the site has “always” garnered interest because of its size, location next to U.S. 131 and access to infrastructure such as rail, potential users have cited out-of-state competition and construction costs as key barriers to redevelopment.
“We know the cost of construction is higher than normal in the region,” said Megan Sall, assistant city manager in Wyoming. “For many local companies who have owned properties for a long time, I think in general the thought of having to build new can be somewhat prohibitive.”
Site 36 has been vacant for a decade since General Motors closed its legacy stamping plant, which has since been demolished, despite the city’s search for a new user after taking possession of the property in 2011.
According to Sall, Wyoming is being intentionally selective in its commitment to bringing in an advanced manufacturing user that will foster job creation and economic development, capturing the spirit of the site’s previous use.
The municipality, which has been approached about developing the property for other uses including recreation, stands ready to help with incentives and an expedited approval process for the right user. The city also works with The Right Place Inc., a Grand Rapids-based regional economic development firm, to attract businesses to the site.
“We remain very confident that it’s a great site for manufacturing,” Sall said. “We think it’s just a matter of time, just finding the right partner who believes in the vision, who wants to be part of rebuilding a new legacy there at that site.”
Franklin Partners, which has marketed the site since 2016, is actively working with three companies to visualize possible uses for the site, Shoemaker said. Even with the mandate that the site be reserved for advanced manufacturing, he remains bullish on the chances of finding the right user among the current group of companies going through the visualization process.
“I’m confident that if we can get one company in there, and get a road going in, get it landscaped, that more will come,” Shoemaker said. “Wyoming is a great city to be a manufacturer in.”
Interest in Site 36 has remained steady as the overall vacancy rate for industrial property in West Michigan stood at 1.3 percent for the first quarter of 2019. That’s according to a report from the Grand Rapids office of Colliers International Group Inc., which notes manufacturers have more opportunities to lease space, rather than buy.
As well, construction costs have escalated in part because contractors remain busy, said Stuart Kingma, associate broker and industrial service provider at NAI Wisinski of West Michigan. While those costs are giving companies pause in moving forward with new construction, Kingma said the unique amenities at Site 36 make it a “fabulous” location for the right manufacturer.
“The city of Wyoming is looking for a major employer, and that day will arrive,” he said. “When they started marketing that site, the market was not as busy as it is today, so they’re certainly in a favorable economic climate to try and capture new users for that site.”
Ever since the stamping operations closed years ago, the city has been “dedicated to restoring the kind of industry” GM represented, believing that attracting a manufacturing use would return the greatest value to the community in terms of jobs and economic development, Sall said.
Site 36 is a brownfield site, so a company could take advantage of tax increment financing for improvements that would need to be made. Sall said Wyoming is working with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. on other incentive opportunities. City staffers also have put together an expedited permitting process for the site, committing to site plan approval for prospective clients in four to eight weeks.
“In general, the city is really focused on finding the user that will create the highest and best use for that site,” Sall said. “It has a really strong legacy here in the community, and we want to honor that.
“We certainly hope we can find the right company to want to be a part of that story as well, and that’s what we keep hoping for.”