Niles committee of the whole meeting sees potential for former YMCA property

NILES — Immediately following the regular city council meeting on Monday evening, the council hosted a committee of the whole to discuss a redevelopment opportunity for the downtown community.

The property at 315 W. Main St., formerly a YMCA property, has sat empty for decades. At the meeting, a developer was discussed as being interested in using the site to build a market-rate, multi-family housing project.

City administrator Ric Huff posed the details of the project in its current beginning stages to the council.

The building would include the rental properties as well as mixed use space on the ground floor levels.

“Probably a restaurant or a brewery type situation,” Huff said. “Something like that, which would overlook the river, but also have frontage on Main Street.”

The challenge with the property would be construction cost.

According to Huff, the city had been working out incentives with the developer to justify and offset some of the cost of construction. The incentives include nearly $2.5 million in incentives from Michigan Economic Development Corporation as well as a Brownfield plan for the property.

“The issue now is that the MEDC funding is very iffy,” Huff said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to confirm since last week. It appears that more of that is going to be pulled into the state’s general fund than in their projects like this one.”

Still, Huff said that the city has not generated tax revenues in decades as it is now. With offsets of development and cleaning up environmental damage under a Brownfield Plan, and with funding from the MEDC, the developer could move forward to potentially develop the land. Under the Brownfield Plan being considered, the developer would receive tax exemptions for seven years to offset some of the costs in rehabbing and redeveloping the property. After which period, the city would begin recouping its investment into the redevelopment.

Huff revealed another step in the plan, where $22,000 to $23,000 of environmental research on the property would need to be done to properly allocate it as a Brownfield plan.

Council member Daniel VandenHeede was previously vocal against the use of a Brownfield Plan with the Drive and Shine development on S. 11th Street. However, in recouping the costs in seven years, he said he would support a development to bring residents and businesses to the downtown.

“I agree with the same thing,” said councilmember Jessica Nelson. “Seven years is a lot easier to swallow on a property that hasn’t seen taxes in for decades.”

Councilmember Gretchen Bertschy asked if the developer had reached out to the local medical community.

“Memorial Hospital rents properties around the hospital so when they have visiting fellows and different medical personnel, they have places for these individuals to stay right near the hospital,” Bertschy said. “It would be interesting because this [developer] could already say, ‘and now we have three already rented.’ I love this idea. I love the notion of the Brownfield because it is what it is. We could aggressively get out from under it.”

According to Huff, the plans began with the developer communicating with Spectrum Health Lakeland in doing the project, as Lakeland has built two housing complexes in the St. Joseph and Benton Harbor areas.

City council members declined to confirm who the developer is at this time.