Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 2, 2014

Proposed downtown housing development delayed over funding

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A high-end housing development on the Boardman River ran into a funding snag that will delay its start until spring.

Developers for the Uptown Riverfront Town Homes at the intersection of Pine and State streets expected to receive a $1 million grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for remediation of historical contamination at the brownfield site.

But the grant came in at just $375,000, thanks to project changes.

“The DEQ indicated they were in for a million and we were pretty well counting on that so it came as a blow,” said Michael Wills, one of the project developers.

Wills and fellow developers Tim Burden and Dave Whiteford killed their planned October construction start while they worked with the Grand Traverse County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority staff to find alternative funding.

Wills said they obtaiend state approval last week to apply for a $1.2 million Community Development Block Grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

“The MEDC said they can do it, but it’s going to be a Community Development Block Grant and those take longer to get,” said Jean Derenzy, director for the Grand Traverse County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

Wills said the fact that developers received permission to apply gives him a confidence level of about 95 percent they will get the grant.

“Without the grant money the project can’t happen,” Wills said. “It’s too expensive to build on ... and if this project doesn’t happen, it means the property is virtually useless.”

The property currently houses a small office building on one lot and parking lots on the rest. The Boardman River historically ran through the property until fill dirt redirected the river. The fill runs up to 24 feet deep and is contaminated with heavy metals and volatile organic compounds.

The depth and amount of fill makes removing it impractical and financially beyond reach, Wills said. Instead, developers plan to build up to 13 town homes from two to five stories tall on concrete piers sunk 10 feet below the original river bed. The design is similar to how Wills and Burden built the River’s Edge and Midtown Centre developments.

Developers plan to cap, rather than remove most of the contamination. That decision reduced the amount of activity eligible for the DEQ grant and turned it into more of an economic development project.

Developers already have reservations for 10 of the town homes and expect to begin construction in April, weather permitting and assuming they obtain the necessary grant, Wills said.