We were ecstatic in 2018 when officials announced plans to convert a shuttered prison in southeast Grand Traverse County into a bustling manufacturing facility.
And we’re likewise disappointed to see a deal that would breathe new life into the place crash into the rocks.
The former Pugsley Correctional Facility lingered empty since 2016 when the Michigan Department of Corrections decided to close the 60-year-old minimum-security prison. It was a blow both to the hundreds of workers who depended on the well-paying jobs Pugsley provided, and the nearby communities where those employees contributed to a healthy middle-class.
The impact of those jobs lost sent ripples into our communities.
Worse, the closure left a difficult-to-redevelop facility idle, decaying and off the tax rolls.
That’s why we, and so many others were excited to learn of plans to rework the 179-acre site into a tech-forward manufacturing campus that would use robotics and skilled labor to build home parts.
For a host of reasons, the prospect of a private manufacturing operation centered in the area is a far cry more attractive than a prison.
First, such an outfit would deliver well-paying jobs. Second, it would return an otherwise derelict state facility to taxable status. Third, it would put some cash back in state coffers in exchange for an otherwise unused, unwanted facility.
We aren’t sure exactly what sent the effort into the rocks. A representative of a development group pulling the deal together said the project crumbled when Inphastos — the home parts manufacturer — decided to shift jobs to Grand Rapids instead of reworking Pugsley. Other tenants were dependent upon Inphastos to make the move work.
Mark McKellar, a lawyer who worked on the project for the development group, North Bay Capital, said the keystone that precipitated the breakdown was a series of delays caused by the Michigan Land Bank.
We don’t yet know the nature of the delays McKellar noted. But we’re concerned about the prospect state officials responsible for fostering redevelopment of shuttered and abandoned state facilities may have played a role in delaying an effort to revamp the site of a closed prison.
Let’s all hope the next effort to bring jobs to the region by injecting new life into Pugsley doesn’t hit a similarly rough path.