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DETROITER March September 2017 2015

BREATHING

State legislation offers muchneeded boost to redevelopment across Michigan By Wensdy Von Buskirk

New Life Into BROWNFIELDS “We’re going to reimburse private investors who have the wherewithal to transform properties like that,” Horn said, adding that nearby states already have incentives in place that are taking large-scale developments away from Michigan, a trend he aims to change with Senate Bill 0111. JUMPSTARTING TRANSFORMATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Hayes Hotel, Jackson.

W

hen the Pontiac Silverdome was built in 1975, it was the largest stadium in the country. With its signature fiberglass roof — held aloft by air pressure alone — it was also one of the world’s most modern.

Although concrete numbers are hard to come by, Michigan is riddled with brownfields — former industrial or commercial sites affected by real or perceived environmental contamination. From shuttered plants in urban downtowns to manufacturing facilities on thriving waterways, these vacant properties are not only eyesores, but also a drag on the economy, tax revenue and overall quality of life.

Horn has reintroduced bold new legislation that could take the Silverdome from “Transformers” to transformational, and help bring new life to other brownfield sites across the state.

With each city limited to one approved plan per year, proponents hope projects will be spread across Michigan, while a long list of checks and balances are meant to ensure the tab is picked up by the private sector. The legislation is supported by MI Thrive, a coalition of nearly 40 communities, economic development leaders and chambers of commerce from across the state. Tim Lake, president and CEO of the Monroe County Business Development Corp., is among MI Thrive’s many supporters. “This legislation is a tool that’s been really missing out of the toolbox for quite a while,” he said.

But when “The Dome” lost the Detroit Lions to Ford Field in 2002, it slid into decline. Today, after several failed attempts at revitalization, the 127-acre site stands vacant, its once stateof-the-art dome long since deflated. Aside from serving as a setting of urban ruin in the upcoming movie “Transformers: The Last Knight,” Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman admitted its only function is as “the world’s largest bird bath.” And for Michigan Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), humor lies in the description alone. “Who in their right mind would develop on that site? You have cleanup, demolition, remediation of the soil, removal of the parking lot … It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and that just starts the process,” Horn said. “No Michigan taxpayer should be on the hook for the cleaning, but who’s going to do it? If nobody does, it sits like that for eternity?”

portion of the tax revenue a new project generates. In this way, backers say, jobs are created and communities reinvigorated with no risk to taxpayers or the state.

Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said a similar bill was introduced in 2016 but did not pass prior to the end of the legislative session. Williams is hopeful the new legislation will be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder this year.

Templeton Site, Portage Avenue, Sault Ste. Marie.

Still, they stay empty because from a development perspective, it is much cheaper and more efficient to build on a “green” site. So as fresh land is claimed and urban sprawl creeps on, abandoned sites are left behind. Horn's bill, which await passage in the House, would unlock $5 billion in new investments statewide to give developers the tools they need to bridge financial gaps holding back complex brownfield projects. Through tax increment financing (TIF), project developers would be able to keep a

According to the Coalition, at least 15 projects across the state stand to benefit from the legislation including the Sappi Paper Mill in Muskegon and Lansing’s “Red Cedar Renaissance” development, a proposed $380 million mixed-use project that will connect Michigan State University and the downtowns of Lansing and East Lansing. “The sorts of developments we’re talking about that could take advantage of this program are the kinds to change the skyline or footprint of a city,” Williams said. “The prospect of what this program could do for the region and state is incredibly exciting.” Wensdy Von Buskirk is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

Detroiter Magazine March Issue  

The latest issue of the Detroiter Magazine takes a closer look at the state of the commercial and industrial market across Southeast Michiga...

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