If all goes as expected, the former J.R. Whiting Plant in Luna Pier will be demolished in two years with efforts well in progress for transforming the power plant site into a rail-to-truck terminal and distribution center.
While that plan was made public about a month ago (See Whiting acquired), local business and government officials had a chance to hear more about the concept and timeline during Monroe Bank & Trust’s Economic Update Wednesday night at the MB&T Headquarters in downtown Monroe.
“There’s certainly a lot of potential with this site,” said Tom McKittrick, president and founder of Forsite Development of Charlotte, N.C., the company that is working on redevelopment plans.
This was the 17th annual event in a speaker series that the bank launched for developers and those interested in real estate, but over time expanded into other business and industry topics.
The event includes presentations of the latest economic trends affecting southeast Michigan, specifically Monroe County, and a keynote speaker on a timely topic.
With a crowd of about 145 people, MB&T officials said the audience was one of the top three in attendance for speaker series.
Officials said the future of the site has a huge impact not just on the tax base for City of Luna Pier but also ripple effects into the region.
In addition to Mr. McKittrick, Dennis Dobbs, vice president of enterprise project management, engineering and services for Consumers Energy, which owns the power plant, also gave some remarks. The Forsite acquisition proposal is still under review by the Michigan Public Service Commission, which is expected to give its decision this fall. But the two explained what happened so far, and what may happen later.
Mr. Dobbs said Whiting had an outstanding record in performance and that the employees took pride in being good stewards of the area. But Consumers Energy concluded in 2011 that it was time to close the plant. It had run 64 years when it stopped operations in 2016.
“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” he added.
But in the meantime, the question became “What is the best use of this property?”
The related question for local government officials involves how to recover at least some of the now-lost taxes. Luna Pier Mayor Dave Davison explained the existence of the power plant helped the city incorporate in 1963 and provide municipal services such as water and sewer lines. The shutdown of the power plant resulted in a huge drop in revenue for the city.
That’s where Forsite comes in. That company’s niche is converting and repurposing former industrial sites. And while the site has cleanup challenges that include abatement of asbestos material, “they’re all manageable,” Mr. McKittrick said.
There’s also easy access to I-75 and an electric substation. More uniquely, the existing infrastructure allows for 360 rail cars to be parked. That’s how the idea of an intermodal truck and rail terminal in support of heavy manufacturing or a distribution center came about.
“We’ll do whatever we can to turn this site into something productive,” Mr. McKittrick said. But “you’ll only hear real projects from us and what we can do.”
By the numbers
The economic data that Monroe Bank & Trust provided in its packet to attendees included:
- The average single famly home sold in Monroe County during 2016 was valued at $155,000, or approaching 2007 values.
- The number of people employed in Michigan has been rising since 2011 and was estimated at 4.914 million in March. This is the first time that number has risen above the spring 2007 number.
- The number of people employed in Monroe County was 77.2 thousand in March, above last year’s 75.32 thousand.
- There were 279 new construction permits issued in Monroe County during 2016, slightly below the 285 issued in 2015. While this is the first slowdown since 2009, it is still noticeably higher than the 2008-2013 numbers.
For these and other regional statistics, go to www.mbandt.com/EconomicUpdate