Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 27, 2012

Wherefore art thou, Meijer?

Long-delayed M-72 store remains a field, for now


ACME — Developers have yet to disturb an inch of earth at the site of a proposed Meijer store, but some area neighbors aren't surprised by the lack of activity.

An oft-contentious project that started in 2004 spent years mired in lawsuits and criminal probes of Meijer for campaign finance violations. Another two-plus years passed as officials updated studies and representatives of the Grand Rapids-based grocer gained Acme Township approval for a 214,000-square-foot Meijer store.

The store is to anchor about 1 million-square feet of retail and commercial development, plus more than 700,000-square feet of housing on over 180 acres.

Neighbors near the proposed site on Lautner Road and M-72 said after eight years there's not much left to generate excitement.

"I'm not really surprised that they haven't started yet," said neighbor Johanna Whiteford. "Just look at the length of time it took to get it approved. What's another year."

Developers received township board approval in early March and said they hoped to begin site work this year, then start construction of a modern traffic round-about at the intersection of M-72 and Lautner while the Meijer store is constructed.

Cecily Muse expected to see bulldozers this summer and wonders what's slowed the project this time.

"I thought they would be started doing something by now," Muse said."Times change; maybe it's the economy."

State officials have no idea when developers plan to begin required work on M-72. Developers remain mum about progress, or the lack thereof. They haven't contacted township officials for months.

"I really don't want to talk about it at all. I just have no comment at this point," said Steve Smith, one of the development's principal investors.

A builder for Meijer contacted township officials in September to obtain information, said Sharon Vreeland, township manager. The builder indicated he wanted to begin store construction in the spring.

"Other than that, I haven't heard anything," she said.

Jay Zollinger, Acme's supervisor, said he's not concerned.

"I'm sure they are working on financial issues and bank issues and road issues and stuff like that," Zollinger said. "They have issues that don't involve us."

Before The Village at Grand Traverse LLC developers can begin construction, they need to provide some sort of bond, letter of credit, or other financial guarantee. The Michigan Department of Transportation and the Grand Traverse County Road Commission also require bonds or letters of credits before issuing permits to begin work.

The purpose behind financial guarantees is to ensure that once a developer tears up a road or cuts into a township sewer main, the agency has the financial means to return the land to a usable state, Vreeland said.

She estimates developers will need about $17 million in financial guarantees spread among the three agencies, based on their own cost estimates.