Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

August 25, 2013

Acme project begins to move as financing loosens

TRAVERSE CITY — A development project featuring a Meijer Inc. store in Acme Township is slowly moving forward, with developers planning to move earth before the snow flies.

The development project, now known as the Grand Traverse Town Center, appeared to go into hibernation after it obtained final zoning approval in March, 2012. Project officials confirmed that financing was one of the main hurdles.

Area finance and economic development officials not involved in the Grand Traverse Town Center said financing has been extremely tight for new commercial developments in northern Michigan and have just now begun to open up.

"Right now bankers are more willing to do construction projects than they were two or three years ago, but they still want to make sure it's not speculative," said Mark Eckhoff, a former bank president who now works for Three West, a commercial real estate consulting firm. "Now, if you have tenants, (the banks) are willing to listen."

That change has occurred in the last six months, Eckhoff said.

Laura Galbraith, vice president for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, said there are a lot of investors out there, but they are requiring less debt and more equity in projects.

"So it's creating a gap in financing," Galbraith said.

Back in the go-go days of the region's economic and population boom, all you needed was an idea to get funded, Eckhoff said. Now banks and other funding sources want to make sure a developer has committed commercial tenants with a strong financial record plus all the necessary permits and government approvals before agreeing to fund a project.

Developers for the Grand Traverse Town Center have a committed tenant.

Conceived in the go-go days, the development promised more than 1 million-square feet of retail and commercial development anchored by the 214,000-square-foot Meijer store plus 700,000 square feet of housing on more than 180 acres on M-72 and Lautner Road.

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