Two lakeshore communities are rethinking how former industrial sites will play a role in future development along their waterfronts.
That’s true in both Holland and Muskegon, two cities in which decommissioned coal-fired power plants could help free up sites for new uses and redevelopment.
As well, both communities follow a string of examples of municipalities paying more attention to how they approach their waterfronts.
“That’s a big trend we’re seeing in a lot of communities, centering around that water asset,” said Luke Forrest, director of civic innovations at the Michigan Municipal League. “It’s a primary asset a lot of these downtowns have.”
After the retirement of the James DeYoung power plant in 2017, officials in Holland started to consider how the city-owned property could be catalytic in waterfront development.
“What happens on the DeYoung property, whatever it may be, would kind of set the direction for future development on the waterfront,” said Mark Vanderploeg, community and neighborhood services director for the city of Holland. “We think it’s really important.”
Last year, Holland officials started a public engagement process to assess needs on the waterfront, sparked by the redevelopment possibilities posed by the James DeYoung property, which sits just outside of downtown off Pine Avenue.
The engagement includes the “Waterfront Holland” initiative, which has gathered public input via a series of brainstorming events to discuss what could become of the property, as well as assess ideas about what the waterfront should look like from South Shore Village to Holland Energy Park, the city’s new natural gas-fired power plant.
The city has never taken an overall look at its entire waterfront, Vanderploeg said. This process provides an opportunity to complete that visioning, then “zero in” on designs for the James DeYoung site.
Establishing an overall vision has yielded thousands of ideas, perhaps because the Lake Macatawa waterfront serves a variety of uses, including industrial. For examples, the James DeYoung property is bordered by industrial uses like Padnos Recycling & Scrap Management.
“Industry has always been a critical part of the city of Holland and remains so,” Vanderploeg said. “Certainly, we don’t want to do anything that could hinder the continued ability for businesses to provide jobs and provide the meaningful things that they do for our local economy.”
The Lake Macatawa waterfront also encourages recreation at sites like Kollen Park and features several activated areas, including near the Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant.
After engaging with the public and various stakeholder groups, the city will review a handful of design scenarios in a market feasibility study. After that, the city could go through an RFP process and partner with the private sector to develop the James DeYoung property. Vanderploeg said the city’s charter mandates waterfront land cannot be sold without a vote from the electorate.
When Consumers Energy closed its B.C. Cobb power plant in 2016 and crews a year later started to demolish a massive paper manufacturing plant on the shores of Muskegon Lake, officials there started to weigh how to push industrial uses to the eastern part of the waterfront to free up space for new uses.
Unlike in Holland, Muskegon’s former coal plant is being redeveloped by a private company, North Carolina-based Forsite Development Inc., which is working to consolidate industrial uses to the former B.C. Cobb site.
Consumers Energy sold the site to Forsite after a months-long evaluation process of firms looking to redevelop the site.
Forsite is currently decommissioning and demolishing the plant, a process it expects to finish at the beginning of 2020, according to Tom McKittrick, principal at the company. Forsite has signed a lease with Verplank Dock Co., which already has an operation on Muskegon Lake, to free up other lakefront property and help move industrial uses to the east end of the lake.
“What is hopefully the outcome is it allows for some of the industrial uses to be consolidated at this end of the lake, which is something the city has wanted for a long time,” McKittrick said. “Currently, there are multiple aggregate piles on the waterfront. This paves the way to get a lot of those properties back into a productive use.”
The property includes 10 usable acres of developable land with dock frontage. McKittrick said several companies have looked at the site, but he’s yet to sign a deal, noting the property would be best suited for an industrial use.
“A lot of land area is effectively sediment,” he said. “There’s pilings down to the bedrock. To build a new structure would be cost prohibitive. Because of the dock, it’s very well-suited for industrial or marine-type uses that can take advantage of the dockage.”
As industrial users shift to the east, developers are embarking on a housing boom between downtown Muskegon and the harbor.
Muskegon Planning Director Mike Franzak said developers have multiple projects underway on the city’s waterfront. Among the projects, Parkland Properties LLC is building Terrace Point Landing, which will feature 70 single-family homes or duplexes. Many of the units have already sold.
During its Feb. 26 meeting, the Muskegon City Commission approved plans for another residential development called Hartshorn Village that includes 55 condos with access to Hartshorn Marina.
At the former site of the Sappi Paper Mill, developers continue to chip away at plans for Windward Pointe, a $250 million to $400 million neighborhood that includes several hundred units as part of an expansive mixed-use development, Franzak said.
As well, Muskegon-based developer Damfino Development LLC has proposed The Docks project, which includes 250 residential units between Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake.
The city’s vision for the Muskegon Lake waterfront calls for mixed-use development, Franzak said, noting high demand for housing in the area.
Attracting people and developers to the waterfront might not have happened if it weren’t for significant cleanup efforts by the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission and other groups, which helped to clear contaminated sediment along tributaries and industrial sites.
“(Muskegon Lake) wasn’t necessarily the nice, beautiful asset,” the MML’s Forrest said. “The cleanup part is key. Muskegon has done a ton of work in this area.”
As projects move forward to reshape how cities interact with their waterfront, it could come with significant benefit to the local economies, sources said.
“I think it’ll be great for the economy,” Franzak said. “It can really help with our downtown development, and I think it’ll also bring mixed-use development to the waterfront as well.”